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Commentary Justice

Why I got arrested at an El Paso protest

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By Diego Carlos

I’m a teacher at Coronado High School. I teach world history and U.S. government. I’ve had some profound experiences with police and policing, starting as a child. My father was an El Paso police officer in the 1980s. His partner was Greg Allen. But my dad quit the El Paso Police Department and went into other work.

He used to talk about why he quit the force. He said he didn’t feel right about what he was doing. He said not every law was a good thing – and it isn’t just bad people who break laws. He said he did things as a police officer that weren’t OK. For instance, when he and my uncle were in high school, they’d smoke pot and go to concerts. Normal kid things. But then, as an officer, he had to enforce laws he felt were wrong.

These are things I remember hearing. Things I was taught.

Diego Carlos teaches at Coronado High School. (Photo by Briana Vargas)

And then something happened when I was an adult. In 2014 my uncle in San Antonio was standing on his own property and police mistook him for someone who was running from the scene of a crime. His teeth were knocked out by them, his face was hit, he suffered a dislocated disc in his neck, and he had to have surgery. In the surgery something went wrong and now he’s quadriplegic. It’s been about five years and he’s trying to raise his three kids after separating from his wife. He’s still quadriplegic. The family tried to sue the San Antonio police. The case got thrown out.

On June 2 I decided to participate in the Black Lives Matter protest in Downtown El Paso. I got there at 7 p.m. There was a lot of verbal aggression toward the police by the protesters. People were shouting, sharing stories. We marched to City Hall and then back to the County Courthouse. There was a tussle: a man was protesting the protesters and saying, “All Lives Matter.” The police tried to corral us by The Tap. They removed the “All Lives Matter” protester—a big, white man with a goatee, and his wife. The line moved forward.

The first time the police pushed us, I thought to myself: “I’ll move if they push me, but not on my own.” I knew if I got down they would have to arrest me. They pushed. I sat down.

I was dragged and cuffed and put against the police car. They took my belongings and I was taken to the police station on Overland Street. For an hour I asked, “What am I being arrested for?” They wouldn’t tell me. They seemed confused.

They said they were taking me to the El Paso Zoo. “What does that mean?” I asked. I thought it was a euphemism. But it was literal. They told me they had an ad hoc station for people arrested at the protests, somewhere by the zoo. But instead they took me to the Northeast substation. I was the only one taken and was there for 30 or 40 minutes. I got searched several times and was put in a single cell.

I’m glad they chose not to hurt me. The police were more or less respectful of my body and belongings. I was lucky. I have the privilege of being educated. It was worth being arrested. I’d do it again.

I was given a court date and a ticket to sign. It was for “pedestrian in the roadway,” a Class C citation. Then they walked me to the lobby.

Later, some of my students would reach out to me to see how I was doing. A few would thank me and say I’d inspired them to give a damn and make change.

But as soon as I got out of police custody I talked with family. After my girlfriend, the first person I called was my dad. 

Learn more about Diego’s father, Rick Carlos.

Cover photo: Diego Carlos was arrested after sitting in the road during a protest in Downtown El Paso on June 2. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters) 

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