Arizonans share harm of racial profiling

Chelsea Kiki standing outside of the Marshall building at the University of Arizona on Tuesday Feb. 28, 2017 (Photo by: Fatuma Shiwoko/ Arizona Sonora News).

Racial profiling happens. It happens inside a classroom, at the market and in the streets. And to those to whom it happens, the hurt is real. Here are five stories.

Chelsea Kiki

With her husband driving, and the brand-new scent of the car freshener coming from the little tree hanging inside their car, Chelsea Kiki and her husband were having a quiet drive on the freeway.

Chelsea Kiki, 25, is 5 feet 6 inches tall and is African American. She is from San Francisco and raises funds for the Arizona Charity Foundation.

Kiki and her husband were on their way to Phoenix. She knew they were going the speed limit with their seat belts on. She was surprised when a policeman pulled them over. “They told my husband to get out of the car and took him to the squad car,” she said.

Kiki sat and watched from the car, her anger overtaking her mood as police searched her husband for weapons and drugs. “He was asked if he had anything illegal that he was taking somewhere and that if he did they needed to know right away” she said. “(The police) just assumed that we had something illegal.”

Her husband later told her why they were stopped. “Apparently, it is an endangerment to have an air freshener (hanging) in the rear-view of our car.” Air fresheners can’t be more than 3 inches wide and 5 inches long. They were told to take it down or they would be stopped again.

“I was angry because that wasn’t the first time that something like that happened and I don’t know, it’s getting old,” she said.

“I couldn’t do anything about it because I didn’t have the cop’s information. Supposedly it’s such a petty case compared to all the major cases that are going on” she said, “you know, being racially profiled and possibly getting killed. When you compare that to an air freshener incident it’s such little case and not as important.”

Derwin Brian Begay

Derwin Brian Begay sitting in a chair in his office at the Nugent building at the University of Arizona on Thursday. March 2, 2017 (Photo by: Fatuma Shiwoko/Arizona Sonora News). Inside his dark tinted car with his family, the only thing going through his head was going home after a wonderful trip at the Ringo Colorado. He never thought of being pulled over by a cop at the bottom of the hills.

Derwin Brian Begay, coordinator and staff member for Arizona Assurance, is Native American with long black hair and dark skin. He recalls being profiled when he was on a trip with his family at the Ringo Colorado.

“I was driving with my family along with all the other cars. There was a cop sitting at the bottom of the hill,” he said. “There were various cars that were coming in and out. Now my car is black with tinted windows. I wasn’t speeding or anything when the cop decided to pull me over and check my ID insurance and registration.

“I asked them why I was being pulled over and they wouldn’t give me a full answer. I asked them if my light was broken or if I was speeding.”

Begay said police only came to his car because the windows were tinted. He said that he was confused as to why he was being stopped when there were multiple cars with tinted windows.

As a staff member at the University of Arizona, Begay often goes to the bookstore, where he “was asked if I was in the right place by one of the white people” he said.

“The way they asked me made me feel like I didn’t belong there.”

Begay started questioning himself as to why they would ask him that. “Did that have to do with how I dressed? They had other students coming in and they were never asked if they were in the right place,” he said.

For Begay, when racial profiling happens, it lets him know he is not welcomed.

“There is a perception about me generated on the mindset by the public and perceived about me by the public through images, assumptions, misinformation, and people not being aware of themselves and being ignorant,” he said. “It also lets me know that I am the wrench in the wheel. Meaning that I am still around and that I am not going anywhere. Our culture is still flourishing.”

Begay said he tries not to focus on the profiling because it happens all the time. “I’m followed when I go down the halls at the stores up on the north side of town. People make derogatory comments, like Chief, the torques and jewelry I wear. I go to a public place and people make those comments.”

Josephine Uong standing in the Nugent building at the University of Arizona on Wednesday, March 1, 2017 (Photo by: Fatuma Shiwoko/Arizona Sonora News).

Josephine Uong

Josephine Uong is Asian American of Vietnamese descent. She was born in Houston and raised in Phoenix.  She is a junior at the University of Arizona, majoring in Biochemistry and Molecular and Cellular Biology.

She recalls being racially profiled when she was younger.

“I was in elementary school, which was a K-8 school, and I was the only Vietnamese there. No one would know who Vietnamese people are so they would refer to me as Chinese or Japanese,” she said. “They used to call me hurtful names that I either did not want to remember or just brushed off.”

“I felt like I was being bullied and singled out because no one else knew what I was going through at the time.”

Uong said that it wasn’t until she reached the sixth grade that she started embracing her own ethnicity. “I would tell them that I wasn’t Chinese or Japanese and that I was Vietnamese.”

Mohamed Thamer Altekraati standing inside the Marshall building at the University of Arizona on Monday March 6, 2017 (Photo by: Fatuma Shiwoko/Arizona Sonora News).

Mohamed Thamer Altekraati

Mohamed Thamer Altekraati, 22, is Iraqi born. He attends the University of Arizona and majors in electrical engineering. Altekraati recalls being profiled by an officer two months ago.

“I was driving at night around 10 with my girlfriend in the passenger seat. I wasn’t speeding or anything, the speed limit was 45 mph,” he said “I was wearing a traditional Copi (hat) that Middle Easterns wear. The cop pulled me over and told me to get out of the car and asked me if they could see my license. He asked me if I was illegally here and for proof of my residency.”

Shocked by what he was hearing, he asked what the problem was, but the officer refused to answer him. Altekraati was annoyed and angry by what was going on in front of him. “They were examining my car to see if anything was wrong with it. They were doing all that because of what I was wearing. They thought I was a terrorist,” he said. “They were associating me with the Arab propaganda and that made me upset.” He said police had him go back home and get proof of his visa, which took him 30 minutes.

Cristiana Piceno, 22, sits in a chair in the Nugent building at the University of Arizona on Wednesday March 1, 2017 (Photo by: Fatuma Shiwoko/Arizona Sonora News).

Cristina Piceno

Born in Yuma and raised in a small border town called San Luis, Cristina Piceno is a Mexican American who works at In and Out Burger.

Piceno remembers being profiled when she first got to the university. “I had a mentor who was older than me. He was an instructor and he was surprised by how well I spoke English because I’m Mexican,” she said, “People assume I speak Spanish because I’m Mexican.”

Piceno said that the incident made her feel less of a person and just a little surprised that people like him with education would say something like that. That wasn’t the only time that she was profiled. “One of my co-workers called me Pocahontas because I’m darker than an actual Mexican,” she said, “I just laughed it off and corrected him by saying that Pocahontas was Native American and that I was Mexican.”

“It’s kind of upsetting and surprising how ignorant people can be” she said, “how they are not informed enough.”

Fatuma Shiwoko is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at

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