- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 5, 2016

A drunken-driving checkpoint program has had to be canceled because it was deemed culturally insensitive to Hispanics.

The Oakland Police Department this week walked back plans for deploying extra DUI traffic patrols on the roads during Cinco de Mayo after a press release about the operation on a Mexican holiday was accused of stereotyping.

Law enforcement had planned on using state grant money to fund extra Driving Under the Influence traffic patrols during Thursday’s holiday, but spokeswoman Johnna Watson announced a change of plans after police drew fire from critics for putting out a news release titled “Fiesta Time or Jail Time.”

“In the United States, Cinco de Mayo has become synonymous with festive fiestas and salty margaritas. Historically, the fifth of May commemorates Mexico’s 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War, but present-day celebrations often lead to drunk driving — and there’s no victory in that,” the bulletin began.

“So before your first margarita, cold beer, or shot of tequila this Cinco de Mayo, make sure you have a designated sober driver or arranged another safe way home.”

The Oakland Police Department issued a statement early Tuesday apologizing for the language of the press release, which had been written by the California Office of Traffic Safety and used by other agencies across the state.

“We acknowledge that the language in the message sent was completely insensitive to the cultural holiday. We have worked extensively to build trust with all our communities and value the amazing cultures that make up the heart of our City. We are taking appropriate steps to insure that this does not happen again,” it read in part.

Later that day, Ms. Watson said Oakland Police would no longer be using state grant money to fund extra DUI patrols on Thursday.

“The decision was made that that particular operation was going to be canceled,” the spokeswoman said, according to the Bay Area News Group.

Ms. Watson failed to explain why the operation was put on hold, but she acknowledged the department received a half-dozen emails after sharing the “Fiesta Time or Jail Time” press release.

“It’s important not to lose focus that our intention is to remind everyone of public safety, and if you are going to be drinking, to designate a sober driver,” she said. “At the same time, we have to be careful about our language and not use words that can be offensive.”
Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said Thursday that, whatever might be said about the press release, canceling DUI patrols in response is “the height of absurdity in political correctness.”

“Police departments conduct these things on a lot of holidays, such as the Fourth of July, where they think people may have drinks and get behind the wheel,” he told Fox News. “This is what are police are supposed to be doing. Just because a few hyper-sensitive people get their feelings hurt shouldn’t be cause to put every motorist’s safety at risk.”

Oakland City Councilman Abel Guillen, a Mexican-American, told the San Jose Mercury News that he understood why fellow Hispanics would find the aborted DIU patrols offensive. “Not everyone celebrates that day by drinking margaritas,” he said.

But another former councilmember pointed out that Cinco de Mayo has indeed posed alcohol-based problems for the city in years past.

“Unfortunately people take advantage to open up parking lots and sell beer and cause problems,” former City Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente told Mercury News. “I guess that’s why I don’t see it as being so insensitive like other people.”

In October, the Oakland Police Department was awarded an $290,000 grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety to be used towards special enforcement activity and public-awareness efforts throughout 2016, including extra DUI checkpoints during special occasions, Bay City News reported at the time. Those funds were provided to the state through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, officials said.

Some of that money was used to deploy additional DUI patrols during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, law enforcement said then.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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