New York, Jan 29
Aravinda Pillalamarri, the inspiration for “Swades”, says she was stopped by police during her morning stroll in her hometown and questioned about her immigration status making her feel unequal because of her colour, according to media reports.
Pillalamari was stopped near her home in Bel Air in Maryland by a police officer after a neighbour had reported her as suspicious, she told the local Baltimore CBS television station on Friday.
Pillalamarri said: “I had just come out for a walk, so I didn’t have my ID. And he said, ‘Why don’t you have ID? Are you here illegally?’.”
“I didn’t expect this to happen in Bel Air. Walking while brown?” she told the official.
The official replied: “No, no, no, nothing like that.”
According to the Baltimore Sun, the incident took place on December 21 and Pillalamarri, 47, spoke out about it at a town commissioners board meeting earlier this month in Bel Air, where she had lived for 30 years.
When she asked if it was because of “walking while brown?” a police supervisor told her she “was under criminal investigation”, the Sun quoted her as saying.
After checking her name on their computer system, Pillalamarri was allowed to go.
“Only when the supervisor asked ‘are you here illegally’ did my sense of colour, and of being unequal, come forth and interest in my civil rights take a back seat to get out of the situation safely,” she told the town commissioners.
Bel Air Police chief Charles Moore defended the official. According to him, asking nationality is insensitive, but not racial profiling.
“They were trying to figure out why there was some hesitation in providing identification, that’s why he asked if she was illegal,” he said.
Although the incident in Maryland — which is considered a progressive state — took place after President Donald Trump’s election but before he took office.
Such police behaviour after a racist neighbour complains about a non-white resident had been routine during former President Barack Obama’s administration, as they have always been in the US.
In 2015, 58-year-old Sureshbhai Patel, who was visiting his son in Madison in Alabama state, was physically harassed by police.
Patel was stopped by police near his son’s house after a neighbour complained that a “black” person was prowling around the neighbourhood.
He suffered serious injuries that left him partially paralysed.
Two prosecution attempts to convict the police officer on civil rights violation failed because juries in both cases could not agree on a verdict.
The attack was captured by a camera mounted on the police car and officials tried to prosecute the officer because there was a public outcry.
A case that received national attention involved the distinguished African American Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates in 2009.
A neighbour, who saw him trying enter his own house in Cambridge in Massachusetts, called police. They arrested the professor inside his home and charged him with disorderly conduct. The charges were dropped.
Obama, who is personal friend of Gates, called the police action stupid and said the incident showed “how race remains a factor in this society”.
Another case in 2015 involved African American senior corporate executive Fay Wells who has an Ivy League MBA.
After a neighbour called the police, 19 of them charged into her own apartment in Santa Monica in California with guns drawn and bringing along a police dog and held saying that she was burglarising her own apartment.