Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Dispatches from a police state

  PHOENIX — News that someone had painted swastikas on the Capitol Building with refried beans surely has assured the ruling majority therein that it is on to something.

  Round up the usual suspects.

  It's a crime, you know. But, then, frijoles can wash off.

  What the legislature and governor have done here will last lifetimes, even if the courts kill it, as is likely. So was expressed in the anger and tears of Latinos of all ages, but most strikingly the young, who staged a vigil outside the Capitol, expecting the worst and being so rewarded.

   The governing majority in the statehouse has effectively made it questionable to be brown — as in the question: "Your citizenship papers?"

   With Gov. Jan Brewer's signature Friday, Arizona police shortly will be required to pursue suspicions of illegal status. Illegal immigration is now a crime under state law. So is the hiring and-or knowing transportation of an undocumented person.

   So, brown people will have to carry documents.

   Gov. Brewer and the new law's proponents say that's not so. We all know it is.

    No criterion other than brown skin could provide grounds for suspicion about one's citizenship in the environment that spawned this awful legislation. Speaking Spanish? That, too. Being brown, speaking Spanish and offering to do just about any brutal task for a pay check? Yes.

    Brewer says police will receive sensitivity training. The state will not practice racial profiling. This is as convincing as North Korea saying it will bring Disney World to Pyongyang.

    Oh, what a tragedy it is that the political process in Arizona is what is clearly behind this odious gesture. Brewer, a generally moderate Republican, may believe in this measure with all of her heart. But the truth is that had she vetoed the measure it would have assured her defeat to a harder-right foe in a looming GOP primary.

     The Arizona Republic, no shill for lefties, pleaded with Brewer to become a profile in courage and moderation.

     In an editorial, it summoned images of the "Chandler Roundup" of 1997, when local police demanded proof of citizenship and ended up handcuffing scores of American citizens: "SB 1070 opens the door to the return of those brutal neighborhood-dividing days."

      The bill's author, State Rep. Russell Pearce, used one of the oldest propaganda techniques in the book when he said that opponents were "against law enforcement, our citizens and the rule of law."

       Actually, that would make the state's police chiefs "against law enforcement," for they opposed the bill.

       One Arizona chief to whom I spoke phrased his concern thusly:

       "I want my officers to have choice and discretion. I want them to be able to prioritize a call rather than to have to handle the undocumented subject because they can now get sued by someone who doesn't think they do it well enough . . .  I also want a victim, after her husband has knocked out her front teeth, not to be afraid to come to us without being afraid of hearing 'Let me see your papers first.'"

       You see, most police see their first job as keeping the peace. What stands to become Arizona law just made it much harder.

       One can understand the concerns of many in a state that's literally at the barricades on this hot-button issue. Comprehensive, meaning clear-headed and compassionate, immigration reform is needed for the very reason that demagogues and extremists can so exploit the matter in a leadership vacuum. Barack Obama rightly decried Arizona's new law, just as he called again for common-sense immigration reforms.

    Brewer will say that the state's frightful overreaction will push Wshington to provide the kind of border enforcement her state needs.

    It sounds reasonable, except for the gun now held to the head of a brown-skinned hostage,  who is a citizen like you and me, but unlike the rest of us, will be forced at that gunpoint to prove it.

      John Young writes for Cox Newspapers. E-mail: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

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