Lisa Gopalan heard several stories of alleged racial profiling while working for the Arizona branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and now she's got one about herself.
The former office manager and spokesperson for CAIR-AZ was pulled over by Gilbert police and arrested last month on suspicion of driving while impaired, and she thinks the incident was a case of racial profiling. After she complained to the city's mayor and police chief, the police department opened up an internal investigation based on her claims.
Gopalan tells New Times this morning, though, that while police treated her poorly in certain respects, the whole racial-profiling thing is just based on her hunch. She confirmed that she performed poorly on a field sobriety test after swerving, and says it's possible that officers believed (incorrectly) she was impaired.
"They had nothing better to do that day," she says of Gilbert officers.
The Chandler resident was on her way to Target on February 15, driving with a scarf on her head and a "big bumper sticker that says "Islam Means Peace" on the back of her car, she says.
(Reality check: Islam means "submission," and only derives from a word meaning "peace.")
She doesn't deny swerving. But when a Chandler cop pulled her over 10 years ago for swerving while she adjusted her CD player, the cop understood, she says. Gilbert PD, however, gave her a sobriety test -- which she flunked -- and arrested her.
"I was wobbly -- I don't have great balance," Gopalan says.
She later told cops she's been taking Wellbutrin XL for a few years, but it doesn't affect her driving.
"I was not impaired in the slightest," she says. "They arrested someone for taking an anti-depressant."
Wellbutrin's Web site states that people shouldn't drive on the drug until they're "reasonably certain" they can handle it.
After Gopalan told them about the drug, cops quipped "what are you so depressed about" and that her dosage probably needed to be changed, she says. They checked her for track marks, which offended her. She looked one sergeant in the face during her booking and told him that "Gilbert just doesn't like Muslims." He didn't answer.
"I think that means that I was racially profiled," Gopalan tells New Times.
Gopalan, an aspiring nurse, says she quit CAIR's Phoenix office a few months ago because another employee hassled her. The employee complained to the office's former executive director that she "was doing a bad job and begging for money." Even though it wasn't true, Gopalan left her position.
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"I feel I've been the victim of vicious lies and slander," she says.
Still, she feels CAIR-AZ will help her out in this situation because it has a new director, Ahmed Daniels, who is sympathetic to her.
The above-linked Arizona Republic story says CAIR is "monitoring" how Gilbert police handle the allegation. Reporter Nathan Gonzalez quotes Daniels as saying "Lisa's case may be the tip of the proverbial iceberg."
Which iceberg was that again?