Anchorage

Anchorage police interaction and selfie with woman flashing ‘white privilege card’ spurs outcry and official investigation

Trump Rally

In a widely viewed post on social media that sparked public outcry, a woman who said she traveled to Anchorage for last weekend’s Trump political rally claimed that her “white privilege card” worked as a driver’s license when she was pulled over by a police officer, and she posted a smiling selfie with an apparent APD officer while holding the novelty card.

Now the Anchorage Police Department is investigating the incident.

Mimi Israelah, who posted the photo on Facebook, wrote in the caption that she was driving to a pizza place in Anchorage last week when she was pulled over, according to a screenshot of the post.

The officer told Israelah, who identifies herself as Pinay or Filipina on her social media profiles, that she had been “waving (sic) on the road,” she wrote. She couldn’t find her license, she wrote in the post, and presented a “white privilege card.”

It’s unclear whether the incident resulted in a citation for the woman and whether the department took any disciplinary actions against the officers involved.

“Per the municipal attorneys office we are unable to answer these questions as the incident is currently under investigation and it relates to personnel matters,” APD spokesperson Sunny Guerin wrote in response to emailed questions about the incident.

On Tuesday, Chief Michael Kerle said in a statement posted to APD’s website that the police department’s vision “is to create an environment where everyone matters.” He did not mention the specific incident in his statement.

Police declined to answer questions about who the officers involved were, why and when the woman was stopped, whether she was cited for an infraction and whether the officers had been placed on administrative leave.

In the now-deleted Facebook post that begins with the crying-smiley emoji and “White Privilege Card works as a Driver’s License! Always keep one in your wallet,” Israelah described getting pulled over by “Officer Bo.”

She wrote that she told him she’d arrived from California to attend Saturday’s rally in Anchorage featuring former President Donald Trump. When asked for her driver’s license, Israelah wrote that she couldn’t find it: “I saw my white privilege card, I gave to him if it’s ok,” she wrote.

Israelah wrote that the officer laughed and called his partner. In the photo, a police officer is posing with Israelah while she flashes a card with “WHITE PRIVILEGE CARD” inscribed at the top.

She wrote she had gotten the card from the conservative comedians known as The Hodgetwins, who sell items online such as stickers reading “UNMASKED UNMUZZLED UNVACCINATED UNAFRAID” and “wellness gummies” with the flavor “white privilege peach.”

In a video apparently taken by Israelah and reposted on Twitter, she asks the officers if they like the card, and one responds that it’s “hilarious.” Comments displayed at the end of the video showed someone asking whether the officer issued her a ticket, and Israelah responding “nope.”

Facebook messages to Israelah went unanswered this week.

Israelah told Alaska Public Media at the Trump rally that she’d flown from California to attend the event and was among a group of people called the “Front Line Joes,” and had been to numerous Trump rallies.

“The energy. The excitement. The love, patriotic love, all the time,” she told Alaska Public Media. “And I met so many friends that we became like family. So we travel across the country. It’s like a reunion all the time.”

Celeste Hodge Growden, president and CEO of the Alaska Black Caucus, said the incident strikes a nerve “because white privilege is the societal privilege that benefits white people over non-white people and unfortunately it still exists, which is why this person attempted to use it.”

She had been out of town when she received a text about the post, and she decided to contact the police department. She reached out to Deputy Chief Sean Case to ask about it. Case said he had seen the post and told Hodge Growden he would investigate, she said.

“I just want the Anchorage Police Department to understand the seriousness of what took place and how I’m hopeful that the stop resulted in some action, and that the white privilege card didn’t allow there to be no consequences for why this individual was pulled over,” she said.

Hodge Growden said she is curious to see what ends up happening, whether there was a ticket issued and, if not, why.

Chief Kerle wrote in his statement on APD’s website that he wanted to clarify the police department’s internal conduct standards “and ensure that it is clear to Anchorage citizens what the expectation of APD employees are and how we interact with our community.”

“As law enforcement professionals, we are held accountable for our actions, and I am aware that the action of one officer can impact the trust between the police force and our community,” Kerle wrote. “I know we are all human. But we belong to a profession that does not tolerate, practice, condone, facilitate, or collaborate with any form of discrimination.”

That response missed the mark, according to Hodge Growden, since it was vague and didn’t directly address the situation.

“APD has had a hard time really with transparency and accountability,” she said. “And I think this is just another situation where it repeats itself. I don’t know why they just don’t own it.”

The officers involved were served a notice of investigation, said Jeremy Conkling, an Anchorage police sergeant and president of the Anchorage Police Department Employees Association, the police union. Conkling said he knew little about the situation and couldn’t say how many officers were being investigated.

“There’s always more to the story than a photograph tells,” Conkling said. “I look forward to these officers having their chance to explain to the department, sort of what their thoughts were, what their intent was, because they’re the only ones who can speak to that.”

Conkling said that in the police department and union, “as a standard policy, nobody has any interest in racially based policing or biased policing.”

Conkling said he had spoken with the officers to see how they were doing and make certain they understood the process of the internal investigation. They did not, however, speak about the specific event.

“The officers will relay that to the department when the department interviews them internally,” he said.

Hodge Growden said she’d like an apology, along with cultural training for officers, and said the incident is deserving of both an explanation and consequences.

“Let’s let this be a teachable moment,” she said. “And put practices in place so that it doesn’t happen again.”

Daily News reporters Tess Williams and Michelle Theriault Boots contributed to this article.

[Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Jeremy Conkling’s last name.]

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Morgan Krakow

Morgan Krakow is a general assignment reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. She is a 2019 graduate of the University of Oregon and spent the summer of 2019 as a reporting intern on the general assignment desk of The Washington Post. Contact her at mkrakow@adn.com.

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