How to Get Arrested in Arizona for DUI With a BAC of 0.00: Be Black

Jessie Thornton was driving in Surprise, Arizona, minding his own business as a law-abiding citizen. His lawyer says Jessie made one mistake—the color of his skin.

Since moving to Surprise, Arizona, retired Ohio firefighter Jessie Thornton claims police have stopped him while driving at least 10 times. (Photo: Screengrab ABC 15)

Allan MacDonell is TakePart’s News + Opinion editor, with a focus on social justice.

Drunk driving is a serious problem in the United States, impacting many thousands of Americans every year, and so is racism. The two issues converged recently during a routine traffic stop of 64-year-old retired firefighter Jessie Thornton by police officers in Surprise, Arizona.

The motorist was handcuffed and taken into custody. Thornton submitted to a Breathalyzer sobriety test and blew a 0.000 blood alcohol content (BAC).

Thornton was eventually free to go, but not before his car had been impounded and the Arizona MVD had been notified of the DUI charge.

Despite the seeming exoneration of the test, the suspect was charged with a DUI, an assessment that led Thornton’s attorney to quip that the real crime was, “D-W-B. Driving While Black.”

Thornton told the local ABC News affiliate that he has been pulled over 10 times and issued four tickets since moving from Ohio to retire in the community of Surprise. This latest stop was the first time he’d been taken to the Surprise lockup.

The arresting officer cited the retiree’s red eyes as grounds for the arrest. Thornton credits chemicals in the neighborhood L.A. Fitness’s lap pool for the redness, a theory in line with Surprise law enforcement’s resident DRE—drug recognition expert.

According to Thornton: “After he did all the tests, he says, ‘I would never have arrested you; you show no signs of impairment.’ ”

A blood test that revealed no trace of alcohol or drugs validated this perception.

Thornton was eventually free to go, but not before his car had been impounded and the Arizona MVD had been notified of the DUI charge, which resulted in a notification that his driver’s license was being suspended and he would be required to attend “some sort of drinking class or something.”

Rather than attend the drinking class, the former firefighter filed a claim against the city of Surprise seeking $500,000.

The National Education Association, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the American Civil Liberties Union, OneAmerica and the Racial Profiling Data Collection Resource Center of Northeastern University are among the many credible and able organizations working to heighten the awareness of and eradicate racial profiling from U.S. law-enforcement policy and practice.

Though harassed, inconvenienced and caused physical distress, Jessie Thornton can count himself among the luckier victims of racial profiling. He has the maturity and resources to fight back.

His lawsuit is not about the money, he told ABC News: “I just don’t want any of this to happen to somebody else.”

Do you ever catch yourself racially profiling? If so, how do you counter it? Explore the solutions to prejudice in COMMENTS.

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