Sobriety checkpoints continue to raise tensions in South L.A.

Dozens of demonstrators assembled near the Slauson Avenue 110 freeway onramp Friday night in a watchdog effort to verify that LAPD officers conducting a sobriety checkpoint were not impounding vehicles of drivers whose sole discretion was being unlicensed.


Until a recent policy change, drivers caught without a license immediately lost their cars to an impound lot. The new policy allows unlicensed drivers to contact the registered vehicle owner within a “reasonable” amount of time, according to a notice released by Deputy Chief Michael P. Downing and Commander Stephen R. Jacobs on March 10.

“Just because they’ve changed the policy doesn’t mean they’re actually abiding by it, which is why we’re here,” said Colleen Flynn, member of the National Lawyers Guild. Guild lawyers, members of the Southern California Immigration Coalition (SCIC), the International Socialist Organization and independent activists lined the street with signs intended to alert drivers of the checkpoint underneath the freeway bridge.

Before the checkpoint began screening cars, LAPD Sergeant Damon Aoki of the Central Traffic Division approached demonstrators to request that they not impede the flow of traffic, especially during a green light.

“This is not a driver’s license checkpoint. This is a sobriety checkpoint.” Aoki told demonstrators. “We generally cite for an unlicensed driver, but we give them a fair amount of time in order to call somebody that has a license—who has to be a registered owner—who then can give permission to another licensed driver if they don’t have one.”

Aoki estimated 30 minutes as a “fair amount of time” and explained that they require the vehicle’s registered owner to be present in order to release the vehicle because of liability issues. The traffic division conducts checkpoints about once a month. No cars were impounded on the night of the demonstration.


“They do catch some drunk drivers, which is great,” said Ron Gochez, a member of Union del Barrio, an activist group within the SCIC. “This is a positive step for us, … but it’s not the end all.” Gochez explained that his group wants police to further amend the policy to allow unlicensed drivers to call any licensed driver—not just the registered owner—to take over the vehicle in case they are pulled over or screened at a checkpoint.

“We’re doing this to educate the community to let them know that they have the legal right to organize and protest to show their repudiation of these practices,” said Gochez. He noted that many community members have begun protesting on their own accord, coming out of their homes with anti-checkpoint signs and text messaging their neighbors when checkpoints are taking place.

image“We’ve very visible,” Gochez said. “They know we’re here.”