Walking while brown

For Immediate Release                                                                                                                Feb 19, 2017

Aravinda Pillalamarri
Photo: Matthew Button, Baltimore Sun

Press Note

Association for India’s Development, Inc (AID)

Contact – Prof Mohan Bhagat (301)345-5308,
Dr Nirveek Bhattacharjee (410)627-7679

E-mail:  [email protected]

Walking while brown: In solidarity with Aravinda Pillalamarri

We are issuing this note in solidarity with Aravinda Pillalamarri who has contributed significantly to the vision and growth of Association for India’s Development (AID), in the areas of sustainable development and social justice, and currently works as Development Coordinator.  AID is a US-based 501(c)(3) organization.

On Dec 21, 2016 Aravinda was stopped by the Police in Bel Air, Maryland while she was taking a morning walk in her own neighborhood.  After she provided answers to what she was doing (walking, as she regularly does) and where she lived (she pointed to her home), the questions continued.  She did not carry an identity card with her as she had just stepped out for a walk.   A police supervisor asked if she was in the US illegally.

The rapid escalation of questioning by the police to the matter of immigration status served as a wake-up call for all concerned with civil liberties and preserving democracy.   The incident has caught the attention of the press, and after being reported in the Aegis / Baltimore Sun, was covered by major news channels such as the Washington Post, CBS News, Times of India, NewsX and the Hindu.

Aravinda’s parents immigrated to the US when she was a child and she is a US citizen.   After she provided her name and date of birth the police verified that there was nothing wrong and let her go.

Aravinda met the Bel Air police chief Charles Moore and town administrator Jesse Bane, and shared her experience at the Town Hall meeting in Bel Air on Jan 17.  Her speech “Walking While Brown (video)” pointed the way forward,  where she asserted that the police and the citizens are on the same side and should work together to protect civil rights of all people while ensuring that there is law and order.   She welcomed the commitment of the town and police department to have the police undergo training that would further sensitize them on implicit bias that may affect their interactions with people of diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds.   (Full text of her speech)

Association for India’s Development stands in solidarity with Aravinda and believes in equal treatment of all regardless of color, race, caste, religion, gender, sexual orientation or nationality. We hope that vigilance and action such as what Aravinda has suggested, and the Bel Air Police Department and town administration has welcomed, will help prevent such incidents in the future.

We are happy to see that Chief Moore of the Bel AIr Police Department has issued the following statement on Jan 30 2017 to ensure that “change will occur”:

Given the promise to move forward with plans to engage the community to address the concerns raised by Aravinda Pillalamarri as a result of her encounter with the Bel Air Police Department on December 21, the following is a report on the actions and plans to date as a result of a series of meetings with Ms. Pillalamarri and other concerned members of the community. It is no longer our intent to continue to report on the incident itself, of which, much has been reported. Now is the time to begin work immediately to ensure the citizens of our Town that change will occur and measures adopted that will ensure that all our citizens receive equal and fair treatment when interacting with members of the Bel Air Police Department. Ms. Pillalamarri will be working very closely with my office as we move this project forward. A policy statement and protocols that address fair and impartial policing in our community are now in the works and will be available for all to view on our Facebook page in the very near future. At our very next meeting, we will discuss the training of our officers, future community meetings, the creation of a community council, a citizens’ academy, and body cameras. Again, Ms. Pillalamarri will be involved in these meetings, as will other members of our community, as her input and her experience will be very valuable to the process. Her perspective will help to frame the direction we need as we foster a meaningful dialogue. As we continue to meet, we will keep the media and the community informed of our progress and our action plans. We want to thank Ms. Pillalamarri for bringing this incident to our attention and for her willingness to work with the Bel Air Police Department to ensure that our policies and procedures reflect the public safety needs and concerns of all members of our community.”

AID works on sustainable development and social justice issues, and partners with groups and movements that work for the rights of the marginalized and oppressed in India.   This incident strengthens our resolve to do our best in our work with the underprivileged communities for social change globally.

In solidarity

Association for India’s Development, Inc.

Video of Aravinda’s speech at the meeting of Board of Town Commissioners in Bel Air, MD.

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Press Reports

Erika Butler, Aegis / Baltimore Sun, January 27, 2017, Bel Air Police detain woman walking, question her immigration status

Devin Bartolotta, CBS News, January 27, 2017, Bel Air Woman’s Immigration Status Questioned In Own Neighborhood

Dilip D’Souza, Scroll, Feb 1, 2017, From inspiring ‘Swades’ to being questioned on immigration status: Aravinda Pillalamarri’s journey

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