By Chida R. Warren-Darby – Managing Editor
On Friday, December 26th, Mr. Tory Robinson was pulled over by a Deputy Sheriff in Lemon Grove for having a broken tail light on his vehicle. When he had been alerted to the request to stop, in an effort to ensure his safety, Robinson continued at a steady pace and opted to pull his vehicle over into a well-lit gas station on Massachusetts Avenue. It is here that several police/sheriff’s vehicles rallied at the gas station before his arrival, with approximately 7-10 guns drawn on him. Robinson complied with all that the officers commanded, including exiting the vehicle, putting his hands up and getting on his knees. Though fully complying, Robinson was charged by the officers as though he had not opted to take heed to them. From December 26th to January 12th, Robinson was held in custody for: evading a police officer/disregard for safety, obstruction, following too closely behind another vehicle, failure to stop at a red light, and an unsafe lane change.
Born and raised in San Diego, Robinson has functioned as an upstanding young man, who was raised in a single parent home, by his father, Mr. Mark Robinson, a retired navy chief. When he graduated high school, Robinson attended college at the University of Texas, El Paso where he graduated with a degree in Multidisciplinary Studies and three concentrations on Business Management, Political Science and History.
Prior to this incident, Robinson held two jobs as a Manager at a Family Dollar Store and a Special Education Specialist with the La Mesa School District, while himself functioning as a single parent, caring for his 6 year old daughter. But all that he had learned in his 27 years of life about playing it safe seemed to be tossed to the wind on that fateful evening, when he found himself in the midst of guns drawn and handcuffs placed. While he was released on January 12th, Robinson still awaited the outcome of the charges filed against him, and on March 24th, an East County Superior Court Judge dropped them all.
Ms. Lisa Covington, a local college professor, and a friend of Robinson’s, learned of the incident, and immediately came to his rescue. “From December until the time he was released, I was really just upset at a system that would incarcerate someone with no criminal background,” she said. With no hard evidence of Robinson committing a crime, Covington found herself angry and frustrated. She recalls speaking to Tory for the first time over the phone after he had been locked up. He shared “I felt like I could’ve been the next hashtag.” “It was difficult to hear and it’s still difficult for me to say,” she expressed. Immediately Covington took on the role as an organizer and an activist, rallying the community around him. “I viewed this as a responsibility to my community, not as something that I have to do… but something I guess I was called to do.” Covington feels that while this one situation is a victory for Tory, in one way, it speaks volumes about racial profiling in San Diego. In Robinson’s case, he was fortunate to have a witness that took the stand in his defense. “The witness drove behind the Sheriff’s car and countered most of what Deputy Sheriff Armin Vianzon said happened,” said Covington. It was stated that Robinson was following too closely behind another vehicle, the witness testified there was no “other vehicle” in front of him; it was said that Robinson was driving in the median lane, the witness testified that it was actually the Sheriff that was driving in the median lane. The witness also caught the incident on a camera phone.
“The fact that Tory stood strong and did not take a plea says a lot,” said Covington. “A lot of people haven’t been able to do that, and are intimidated by the system, and he didn’t do that. The intimidation is real, and it is a way to disenfranchise Black communities across the country.”
Covington expressed that Robinson is really dealing with the after effects of this all. He has lost half of his income, and stability due to this situation. “I honestly feel disgusted. I feel saddened by the way Black men and women are targeted in our community. I think that’s really where I am with all of this.” Covington stated that she didn’t sleep a wink from the time Robinson was jailed till the time he was released. “The day he was released was the first time I could sleep. Me as one person, that’s one thing, but as a community, how are we mobilizing to inform folks about their rights, or what it means if you don’t accept a plea and you didn’t do anything?” Covington says she sees the economic injustice that is brewing, and thinks often of the poorer Black men and women in these situations. “They may be innocent but the threat and intimidation can create a feeling of [I need to take this plea]. They are convincing people that they are not innocent. You have this whole hamster wheel going with people who don’t have the income to consult an attorney, who’ve missed work, and missed income that they and their families rely on. It’s completely disgusting and disheartening,” she said.