Oakland, Calif. police cancel Cinco de Mayo DUI checkpoints after outcry

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A warning about drunk-driving checkpoints during the Cinco de Mayo holiday got the Oakland (Calif.) Police Department in hot water.

The lengthy warning, titled “Fiesta Time or Jail Times,” about driving while intoxicated made many references to such drinks as tequila and margaritas, and many people complained it was  offensive.

“In the United States, Cinco de Mayo has become synonymous with festive fiestas and salty margaritas,” the warning said. “Historically, the fifth of May commemorates Mexico’s 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War, but present-day celebrations often lead to drunk driving—and there’s no victory in that.”

Criticism about the warning prompted the Oakland Police Department to issue an apology and then cancel the checkpoints.

“The Oakland Police Department would like to apologize for the recent press release addressing traffic safety enforcement during the Cinco de Mayo holiday,” the department said in a statement, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “We acknowledge that the language in the message sent was completely insensitive to the cultural holiday.”

The decision to cancel the checkpoints came after a backlash on social media.

“Oakland Police has posted on their Twitter account they’re going to put out Extra Patrols for you drunk Mexicans on Cinco de Mayo,” said a post on the Facebook page Oakland Latinos United. “How does it feel. As a Mexican Chicano I wonder if OPD will be posting DUI PSAs for every ethnic & culturally based holiday?”

But others say the decision by Oakland police was absurd.

“Police departments conduct these things on a lot of holidays, such as the Fourth of July, where they think people may have drinks and get behind the wheel,” said Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation of American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, who lived in California for many years. “This is what are police are supposed to be doing. Just because a few hyper-sensitive people get their feelings hurt shouldn’t be cause to put every motorist’s safety at risk. It’s the height of absurdity in political correctness.”

Oakland spokeswoman Johnna Watson defended the intent behind the warning, which she said generated several email complaints to the department.

"It's important not to lose focus that our intention is to remind everyone of public safety and if you are going to be drinking, to designate a sober driver," Watson said, according to the San Jose Mercury News. "At the same time, we have to be careful about our language and not use words that can be offensive."

The Mercury News said that Oakland City Councilman Abel Guillen, a Mexican-American, sympathizes with critics of the warning.

"Not everyone celebrates that day by drinking margaritas," Guillen said.

Police officials stress that they’ll still be vigilant, as they typically are on certain holidays, about drivers who drink too much.

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