As good friends, Theresa Dang and Maria Zacarias share many things: biking, cooking, a love of activism, loud laughs, and a night in jail that just might get them a chance to battle the Santa Ana Police Department's controversial checkpoint program in court.
On Dec. 5, 2014, the pair helped CopWatch Santa Ana monitor a DUI checkpoint and offered rides to unlicensed immigrants to avoid car impoundment. Santa Ana's finest paid the two in kind with cuffs, hauling off Zacarias for obstruction and Dang for public drunkenness--never mind that Dang wasn't given a sobriety test in the field nor in jail, or that the mild-mannered Zacarias did nothing to provoke the blue.
"I would've layered up," Zacarias says of her night in jail. "It's cold in there."
"I wish Chapter One could've delivered their mac and cheese to me!" Dang shoots back with a laugh.
The two lived virtually the same lives before becoming amigas, though on different coasts. Zacarias grew up in Betterton, Maryland, listening to bands such as Operation Ivy, the Unseen and the Exploited; she returned to Anaheim at age 19. Dang, from Westminster, went to punk shows at the Unitarian Church in Anaheim before finishing law school in San Francisco.
"How did I meet you?" Dang asks her friend while prepping a chocolate cake in Zacarias' kitchen.
"I guess OC May Day Coalition?" Zacarias replies.
The two helped the group's 2010 campaign against checkpoint and towing policies in Santa Ana, which at the time penalized unlicensed drivers--the overwhelming number of them undocumented like Zacarias--with a 30-day car-impound policy that pushed retrieval fees to more than $1,000. Over the next year, Dang did legal research and found pro-bono lawyers to assist with the campaign, while Zacarias spread the word about retenes (checkpoints) on social media.
The OC May Day Coalition scored a victory in October 2011, when Santa Ana police began allowing 20 minutes for folks to find licensed drivers to drive their cars away. The coalition also got car impounds reduced to a single day. Zacarias cites statistics showing impounds in Santa Ana are down 75 percent since the start of the new policy.
But the checkpoints haven't stopped.
"I don't believe that the police are informing drivers of their rights," Dang says.
So she and Zacarias decided to investigate the Dec. 5 checkpoint.
"The police held us for six hours," Dang recalls. The Orange County district attorney's office has yet to file any charges, but the two are taking no chances. "We've retained excellent attorneys," she adds.
As their legal battles await, one could excuse Dang and Zacarias for laying low for a while. But just weeks after their arrest, they were back at it, carrying signs alerting drivers to a checkpoint on Main Street in Santa Ana.
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As they describe their return to action, the oven timer dings. The two slap a loud high-five.
"Sorry, too strong," Dang says while removing the cake. "My high-five game is too strong!" Zacarias doesn't mind. There's a more pressing issue at the moment: "Where the ice cream at?"