published Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

Cook: Fishing while brown

In the early evening on July 3, four local men went fishing.

Not raiding or robbing. Not pillaging. Not plundering.

Just fishing.

You should have seen them out there, just below the Chickamauga Dam. Most of us fish with high-dollar rods and reels, dangling fancy Bill Dance lures, swiveling around in our shiny bass boat chairs.

These four guys? Riverbank fishing, with the barest of bares: a line, a hook and some bait. They were simple yet majestic men, pulling in fish hand-over-hand. Hemingway would have rushed to his typewriter.

Monday, I met them. I had lots of questions, but like any good Southerner, started with the most important: How many did you catch?

"Diez pescados," one of them replied.

It means 10 fish, but I didn't know that at first. Don't speak Spanish. And I'm betting the officer who arrested them that night doesn't either.

"All 4 men were placed in custody," he wrote in his police report.

Around 9 p.m., the men -- all from Mexico, without U.S. documentation -- were approached by an officer from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. According to his arrest report, he saw them "all using fishing lines manipulated by hand.'' So he asked to see their fishing licenses.

"Two days expired," one fisherman -- the police report calls him John Doe 3 -- told me Monday through a translator.

The officer then asked for a Tennessee ID.

"Which they couold [sic] no [sic] produce," his report continues. (Translation: which they could not produce).

So he then asked for an ID from any U.S. state.

"They presented me with IDs that apper [sic] to be from Mexico or another country," the officer wrote.

So ... he arrested them for illegal taking of wildlife and ...

"Fishing without a license," the arrest report reads.

More like Fishing Without White Skin. Or Fishing While Brown.

"I never dreamed I would be going to jail for going fishing," John Doe 4 said Monday.

Who ever does? I've fished without a license more times than I can count (I'm sorry, and promise never to do so again). Had a TWRA agent ever come my way, not in my worst dreams would I have ever imagined I'd end up handcuffed, arrested and taken to jail.

It's like a fish tale: no way such a story can be true.

"It isn't that uncommon," said TWRA's Law Enforcement Maj. CJ Jaynes. "It probably happens in Hamilton County monthly, if not biweekly."

Jaynes said TWRA policy requires an officer to cite offenders who cannot produce a license.

"If someone cannot give you proof of ID, you can't really write them a citation and let them go," he said.

Why not? And is it even constitutional for a TWRA officer to arrest someone because of documentation issues?

Our four fishermen came to the United States several years ago, all from Chiapas, Mexico, all hoping to find work here.

"This is the country where everyone can get ahead," said John Doe 2.

They enjoy fishing. It feeds them. Back home, they fished all the time ... and no one ever took them to jail.

"We were just fishing with our hands," said John Doe 2.

Monday afternoon, they appeared before Hamilton County Sessions Court Judge David Bales. John Doe 4 had paid his court costs and also purchased a fishing license (the TWRA allows nonresidents to buy fishing licenses. They cost $81).

"The case is dismissed," Judge Bales said.

John Does 1, 2 and 3 were an hour late. Apologizing, they said their boss did not let them off work.

"In Mexico, you have to work all day to make $10. Here they pay you $10 an hour," John Doe 1 told me.

Each but one had paid his court costs. Judge Bales gave the nonpaying Doe a month to pay the $242.03. He dismissed the other two cases.

It was early; plenty of daylight left for fishing.

"We were going to go again today," said John Doe 3, wearing a blue Habitat for Humanity T-shirt that read: give a hand-up, not a hand-out.

Like they always say: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for life.

As long as he has the right papers.

Contact David Cook at or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
klifnotes said...

"This is the country where everyone can get ahead," said John Doe

Only if you're welcome, John Doe 2. Only if you're welcomed. And even that welcome can be a temporary thing, depending on who or what groups are being targeted at any given time. One day it maybe blacks, the next browns and the next middle-easterners. It all depends on who we're suppose to be hatin' on at any given time.

They enjoy fishing. It feeds them. Back home, they fished all the time ... and no one ever took them to jail.

They likely wouldn't have gone to jail either if their skin tones were lighter.

"If someone cannot give you proof of ID, you can't really write them a citation and let them go," he said.

Like Cook suggest, yes they do let'em go. And they know this. That's it means when one states the fact, laws and to arrest or not in America are used despairingly, and left up at the discretion of the individual who stops you. Blacks and browns make easier targets. It's like the predator who cases his victim before pouncing. It's already been pre-determined who can likely afford to fight the charges who cannot. It's an ingrained concept that dates back. Who's worthy who's not. Who's considered superior verses who's considered inferior, and therefore not worthy.

July 23, 2013 at 8:33 a.m.
scrimshaw said...

In the case of the TWRA,they do not give out "warnings".Each and every agent is totally aware that the budget is tight and every citation issued is more revenue! These people are "fee-grabbers" of the highest order and there's nothing you can do about it,except pay up.

July 23, 2013 at 10:05 a.m.
LaughingBoy said...

Maybe I'm wrong, but after re-reading this tale I came to the conclusion we're discussing illegal immigrants? Why is this an issue, then?

July 23, 2013 at 10:19 a.m.
scrimshaw said...

what's the difference in "undocumented" and "illegal"? Do you think Judge Bales would have let them off with fines if they were "illegal"?

July 23, 2013 at 11:58 a.m.
rsimms said...

Mr. Cook has a very glaring and very biased error in his column. He asks, "Is it even constitutional for a TWRA officer to arrest someone because of documentation issues?"

The gentlemen were NOT arrested for their documentation issues. They were arrested because they were breaking the law and could produce no identification. TWRA officers (and every other law enforcement officer) routinely arrest U.S. citizens for violations, IF they cannot produce legitimate identification. I know because I was once a wildlife officer and I've done it.

You've documented this incident well. However you've provided no evidence that the exact same protocol (and spelling errors) wouldn't have occurred if the violator had been a bumbling Times Free Press columnist who left his wallet at home.

Assuming and implying otherwise is grossly unfair and as equally biased as you've implied TWRA officers may be.

July 23, 2013 at 1:38 p.m.
bswan said...

Mr Cook,since when did you become a spokesperson for hunters and fishermen? It is simply against the law to fish without a license...period!

And, if the person arrested said his license had expired two days ago, he knew he was breaking the law...period!

And, you commented you had fished many times without a license. Does that mean you condone not having one? Does it mean it is OK for those guys to fish with a hand line or expensive rod and reel without a license?

My guess is your dad, Dan, would be rolling over in his grave if he could read this story. Your dad never condoned fishing without proper permits no matter what skin color!

No matter how hard you try, your efforts to make this a Zimmerman/Martin type of issue is an absolute failure!

July 23, 2013 at 2:02 p.m.

I don't even know what the point of this article is....? I have dreaded buying hunting and fishing licenses my entire life, or rather dreaded the consequences of not doing so. Countless times I've made a late night run to wal-mart or purchased them online, just to be legal to enjoy those activities. What kind of platform is "i fish without a license all the time" ? Is "I drive without a license all the time" the same thing? Seriously man, there are plenty of more relevant race-driven arguments to be made out there without puffing up stories like this. They paid there fines and moved on just like anyone else would (yes even white guys). Try harder next time, this is weak sauce.

July 23, 2013 at 2:34 p.m.
jesse said...

Break the law?ya gonna pay!

I was at Center Hill lake a long time ago and two guys rolled into Sligo dock and put their boat back on the trailer and a T.W.R.A. dude noticed they had a bunch of scuba gear so he checked the live well and found TWO walleye that had been shot w/a spear gun! They went STRAIGHT to jail! Lost their boat,motor ,trailer, the truck the trailer was hooked to and ALL their scuba gear! WHICH is exactly what was supposed to go down!!

Next time I'm caught on the hiwassi w/8 trout I'm gonna tellum "call David Cook" he will git this all straightend out

July 23, 2013 at 2:36 p.m.
LLewis said...

You were doing some fishing yourself when you wrote this mess. Fishing for a way to find a local version of the alleged profiling in Sanford Florida. In this country in every state, it has long been a requirement to have a license to drive, a license to own a business and a license to fish or hunt. There are other licenses too, but I bet most folks would know these three. On Saturday morning I was "checked" by a TWRA officer and guess what? I had my license and he said "Good Luck and have a nice day". I might be slightly brown from the sun, but I am not Hispanic. He also looked in our cooler and a bag of trash we had. Did he do all of that because I have a farmers tan? No, he did that to make sure we were following all of the laws and that is his job! I was able to be at home Saturday night because I was following the law instead being favored because of race. The TWRA guy at the Dam was just doing his job and those guys fishing were breaking the law.

July 23, 2013 at 2:42 p.m.
jesse said...

I did not know till just now that David was Dan's son!

How do you grow up in that family and wind up w/o a CLUE??

Some body on here hung the handle "Hand wringer" on David and they flat nailed it!!

July 23, 2013 at 2:57 p.m.
Walden said...

He's not Dan's son.

July 23, 2013 at 3:45 p.m.
dkbrantley said...

HAHAHA!!! This is the most hilarious, ridiculous thing I've read in a while. I'm guessing (hoping) this is only on the online version of the TFP, so it can be removed with great speed.

I'll try not to go over new ground, as much of the laughter has already been shared. Here are my two cents though.

Cent the first: I'm not sure where you're fishing to never get asked for a license, but I get asked on occasion. And they ask to see whatever fish I've caught, which I do. Because there are legal limits. Legal limits.

Cent the second: My uncle-in-law took a group of kids fishing a few years ago. He was not fishing because he didn't have a license. But when half the fishing kids took off to do something else, he had to reel in the rods they left behind. Just then, a GWRA (he's in Georgia) rolled up and asked to see his license. As stated, he didn't have one. So the GWRA guy told him my uncle-in-law was going to get fined. My uncle-in-law was not pleased and let this be known. He then got a ride to jail. And he's white.

July 23, 2013 at 4:14 p.m.
MikeRomines said...

The law in Tennessee is that a person must have a fishing license to fish. These men were fishing without a license.

All the rest of Cook's commentary trying to link their race as the cause for their 'troubles' is ludicrous.

July 23, 2013 at 4:25 p.m.
jesse said...

I have come to the conclusion that David Cook runs on brain waves from the outer limit! No relationship w/reality ,just what makes you feel like "A GOOD PERSON!"

July 23, 2013 at 4:27 p.m.
beekeeper said...

scrimshaw said...

In the case of the TWRA,they do not give out "warnings".Each and every agent is totally aware that the budget is tight and every citation issued is more revenue! These people are "fee-grabbers" of the highest order and there's nothing you can do about it,except pay up

Scrimshaw doesn't have a clue.

The TWRA officer was doing exactly what every hunting and fishing license holder pays him to do. We pay for our license so that we can legally hunt and fish in the state of Tennessee. Anyone that is not following the law is stealing from me. Evidently some if not all of these illegals have been here long enough to have had the opportunity to get a green card or work on becoming a naturalized citizen. Why have they not done so.

They claim to make $10 an hour. How much do the pay in taxes on that $10. Most folks will pay upwards of $2.50 on every $10 they earn.

July 23, 2013 at 5:41 p.m.
wsslll said...

Let me start by saying the only reason I saw this story was due to a call this morning from a friend. Ever since "Buddy" our cockatiel died we have had a need for the Free Press rag around here except in the fall it sure helps start a good fire. This guy obviously has no clue as to what he is talking about, but what do you expect from writer working for a news company that still puts ink on paper! I bet he has even written a gun control story and talked about "Clips" and "Assault Weapons" whatever

July 23, 2013 at 5:42 p.m.
wcm68tn said...

I found this article here; .

David Cook sounds like a little girly man who spent far too much time indoors as a child. So these men, being that they aren't white, weren't breaking the law severely enough to deserve a citation? Perhaps David Cook thinks the definition of 'fishing' doesn't apply since they weren't in a boat or using artificial lures. It also seems to Mr. Cook that a recently expired license should allow one to fish without being harassed by the authorities.

Cook also seems to have a problem with Tennessee fishing regulations differing from those in Mexico (well, supposedly differing since Cook shows no sign of verifying these claims), and perhaps it should have been okay to fish without a license since they were feeding their families. Is Cook suggesting permanently removing the fish from the water is okay to do so without a license, but catch and release should require a license?

Cook also referred to himself as a 'good Southerner.' Mr. Cook, I hardly think so. Here in the south, the 'good' residents have common sense and don't race-bait the authorities and spew some twisted liberal anti-American logic when we get caught fishing without a license. Like any TRULY GOOD Southerner, we simply accept our fate and ask the Possum Po-Po "how many more of us have you caught today?"

July 23, 2013 at 6:03 p.m.
Liveliner said...

I am appalled that David Cook would post such an article as this. Obviously, David Cook has absolutely no knowledge or understanding of the fishery value here in this area. We as fishermen strongly support fair laws that are designed to protect our fishery. It should be most apparent to anyone who has lived in this country for the time spent here by those four that we have Laws. Self serving individual opinions are not acceptable regardless of where you come from. I have a good understanding of the nature of people who feel they can win the gamble of not getting caught. I would like to know haw many times these four have fished before this time and as to haw many under-sized fish they have killed.

I ask Mr. Cook, Should the TWRA officer have turned his head rather than perform the Job that we as Fishermen and true sportsmen hired him to do? If I caught him in violation of promoting the illegal taking of my fish I would demand his termination or substantial discipline. Our great Fishery is not just there by chance.. We who have paid the price for the licenses are the ones who have paid for all we have available. I strongly suggest that you Mr Cook take the time to study the accounting of fishing and wildlife at TWRA.

With consideration of the nature of your thinking in this article, I would like to close with a comparison you may understand. ... A Farmer clears and tills his soil, Buys the Plants, spends hours planting and nourishing the plants. When the crops are ready to harvest the farmer observes four men taking his harvest without getting approval. What would you do?

July 23, 2013 at 9:49 p.m.
RUGER7750 said...

David Cook, In my humble opinion this was a SICKENING attempt to capitalize on the current race issues we have in this country. You are a pathetic excuse for a reporter and you should be ashamed of yourself. You literally make me sick. They broke the law and were punished for it, simple cut and dried. Of course idiots like you will whip the uneducated public into a frenzy and make victims out of them.

I have an idea, deport them to where they belong and you go with them if you feel they were so poorly treated.

You disgust me and I sincerely whatever pathetic attempt of gains you tried here for your employer backfires and you are punished by being on the lookout for a new job.

Again, you simply disgust me.

July 23, 2013 at 9:52 p.m.
CraigSmith said...

Seriously? TWRA has an obligation to enforce the laws as best it is able. When a "brown" (apparently this is the new politically correct way to say illegal alien) person makes the decision to fish illegally they make a decision to accept the consequences in the event that they are caught just like any white, black, green or blue man. Unfortunately if you have no way to prove who you are you the consequences are that you get a free ride to jail. I bet your undocumented friends won't make that mistake again.

July 23, 2013 at 10:36 p.m.
tcscpa said...

I find it hard to believe you would choose the angle/slant you took with the article. As has been articulated by so many above, they were illegally fishing, period. Maybe its not as bad as "... raiding or robbing. Not pillaging. Not plundering", but still as illegal and the fact they could not produce documentation left the TWRA Officer with no choice but to arrest them. What would you have a sworn law officer do?

The officer did the right thing and you should be ashamed for implying the officer was profiling "brown" people. I have been asked many times for my license, which I produced along with my Driver's License as my Life Time Hunting License states that I must carry other ID. Was the officer profiling a Non-Brown middle aged white guy? Or was he profiling someone he knows well as he comes to my hunter education classes yearly to talk about what a TWRA officer does?

No, he was doing his/her job that the hundreds of thousand license holders in the State of Tennessee ask them to do.

Maybe next time Mr. Cook, you can feed them for a lifetime by teaching them to fish legally.

July 24, 2013 at 12:01 a.m.
rivercityRN said...

Ironically, Mr. Cook holds a Master's Degree in Peace and Justice Studies...

July 24, 2013 at 1:53 a.m.
ThorsHammer said...

IT IS HAMMER TIME! Racism is not defined as arresting lawbreakers or enforcing the laws of this country. Racism is the blatant act of labeling and assigning cultural bias based on skin color, religion or nationality. None of which occurred in this TWRA, game enforcement arrest.

SO THOR ASKS: Who is the racist? Thor thinks it is David Cook! Who benefited from the cries of Racism? David Cook did.

July 24, 2013 at 9:16 a.m.
HeathJ said...

Amazing how people's views of situations are altered when their lack of knowledge blinds them to the fact of what is right and what is opinion. It's amazing how many illegals including Oriental, Czech, not just "brown" ones, frequent the dam when my 9 year old daughter and I have our daddy daughter time fishing. I take this as a perfect opportunity not to teach her how to be a judge of race but a judge of written law via the TWRA handbook she studies on our trips. There is nothing sweeter than the sound "Daddy? Was that a little Smallmouth he just threw in the bucket?" This is not her saying, "Look what that Mexican is doing! He's throwing everything he catches in the bucket!" being a judge of race but yet she is questioning whether it is lawful fish within it's length limits. I can't tell you how many times I have had people who could barely speak a hint of English ask for fish well under the length limits only to get denied and that look in their eyes of dismay as I pitch the fish back into it's home. Did I judge them because of their race? No, I made the right choice by law and turned the illegal fish free. And then explained to my daughter the right thing to do by law not the wrong thing to do to by judging race.

July 24, 2013 at 11:03 a.m.
ahannityclone said...

Let's all be honest here, this has nothing to do with fishing, legal or not. This entire bloviation of an "article" is nothing but an effort by the liberal author, David Cook, to further inject a pitiful case of race-baiting based racial argument during a time when it is "vogue" to do so by the media. Where was Mr. Cook when white people break game and fish laws and get fined and/or lose the right to hunt or fish in out State and many others? The answer is no where will you find that argument because it does not fit his obvious bias and racial-based narrative! Surprising, well maybe not, is the TFP's support of this when that goes against everything ethical, impartial journalism is supposed to be—if you wanted "shock value"...well, I guess you got it.

Instead of using this issue of game and fish violations, along with being in Our country illegally, to stand behind Our Written Laws and supporting the law enforcement agencies that enforce those laws, Mr. Cook decided to side with criminals—obviously the TFP has chosen the same. When will the TFP openly support murder and robbery—there is no difference, a law is a law and those that break those laws are criminals.

Since Mr. Cook has chosen to use this topic of game and fish laws, I'll play on that court for moment. First of all, people of all ethnic backgrounds illegally hunt and fish everyday, and those same people are caught and brought to justice by TWRA Wildlife Officers everyday—it is not a color issue, it is a breaking the law issue. Although, as far as fishing below the dams and banks goes, I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have seen a "brown" person, as Mr. Cook wrongfully calls Hispanics, or Asian person throw a short (illegal) fish in their bucket or go way over the daily creel limit—it is reported every time I see it. I can't check their license, but I know for a fact that a significant percentage of those do not have a fishing license. Why doesn't Mr. Cook report on the robbing, abuse and bastardization of a resource(fishing) that the TWRA has been charged to protect for the use of future generations of All individuals-I guess it is okay with him if someone came to his house and robbed him! Instead the TFP and Mr. Cook are more interested in shamefully accusing an agency of being a racist based agency when all the TWRA is trying to guarantee is a viable resource for everyone's use—present and future, including Mr. Cook and the editor of the TFP.

Instead of a shock and awe approach, why doesn't Mr. Cook and the Editor of The TFP return to the days when a media outlet reported from the facts with impartiality and a sense of ethics?

July 24, 2013 at 1:46 p.m.
jjmez said...

Did anyone attacking Mr. Cooks article take time to fully read what he is saying? He is saying he's gotten caught fishing without a license too, but he was neither arrested nor written a citation. He's talking about the disparity in enforcing laws when it's left up to the discretion of the officer on site. The laws were applied across the board and didn't target people based on race and class, there would be a helluva lot more whites in jail and prisons for breaking laws others are routinely arrested for just to fill some sick quota and pay into their retirement system. And especially the ones making the arrest or writing citations, their family members, friends, children they often let off the hook when they're caught breaking the law. Look how many years it took for someone to finally start arresting those drunken little brats, and who knows what else they were dabbling into, up there in Apison several months ago. Even their parents and grandparents had gotten away with doing the same and more.

July 24, 2013 at 3:04 p.m.
JoeThePimpernel said...

David, why is it that you have no problem with the fact that the brown skinned men (sounds like racial profiling to me) are ILLEGALS?

We have a feral government that refuses to enforce immigration law. I have no problem going after ILLEGALS any way possible, since the feral government is engaged in criminal behavior by not enforcing immigration law.

Now you will call me xenophobic names because I, unlike you, recognize the difference between LEGAL and ILLEGAL immigration. No other country on earth allows people to stay illegally, but you think we are supposed to, and we are supposed to rectify the situation by giving them a "path to citizenship."

Here's how we can fix the situation, David. Let's have our immigration laws mirror Mexico's laws. Let's treat illegal Mexican aliens the same way they treat illegal US aliens.

What cold be fairer than that.

And if they're fishing without a license, they deserve to get a ticket. If you didn't get one because of your skin color, why didn't you insist on being given one?

July 24, 2013 at 4:09 p.m.
Vermin93 said...

So basically all we can really discern from this apparent work of amateurism is that David Cook supports illegal immigration and illegal fishing - two positions very much in the minority in the greater Chattanooga area and in the State of Tennessee. Why is the Times Free Press printing this junk?

July 25, 2013 at 12:05 a.m.
dkbrantley said...

jjmez: You're exactly 100% wrong with your comment. Here is what he said:

"I've fished without a license more times than I can count (I'm sorry, and promise never to do so again). Had a TWRA agent ever come my way, not in my worst dreams would I have ever imagined I'd end up handcuffed, arrested and taken to jail."

He does not say he was ever caught. He says the TWRA has never shown up when he was illegally fishing. If they did, I guarantee he would be fined. Or if he didn't have any ID, he would be arrested.

July 25, 2013 at 8:43 a.m.
jesse said...

JJ has good reading skills BUT comprehension?NOT SO MUCH!!

Game officers are among the most strict leo's around!

They don't cut ANYBODY any slack!!

July 25, 2013 at 9:41 a.m.

Mr Cook, Unless something has changed in the last couple of years TN fishing licenses expire on Feb 28th. You can buy them anytime but they expire on a set date, so I don't know how Jon Doe's expired 2 days before July the 4th. Unless you didn't verify his tail or just threw that in for compassion's sake. Also on federal land without ID breaking the law? Near the damn? In a post 9-11 world the officer of the peace is to just mosey along. At a time when granny gets a pat down at the airport 4 unidentified males should be left alone at a major piece of infrastructure on one of our most important holidays......ahhhh huuuu I see. Add this one to a long list of articles demeaning law enforcement. Squeeky brakes.... driving while brown... (did you ever do that ride along?) Would it not be better to petition your lawmakers to make exceptions to the fishing without a license laws to allow for anyone to do it? I enjoy the articles you write when you are trying to give a hand up to the less fortunate but this is simply red meat to your admirers, not an exposé on social injustice. Keep fishing Mr Cook , there are real acts of racism out there and with a little more journalistic effort you should be able to find them.

July 25, 2013 at 2:48 p.m.
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