Walking While Brown: Racial Profiling in Arizona

 

The following is part of an essay by Not In Our Town activist Hugh Vasquez of Walnut Creek, CA, addressing the human impact of Arizona's controversial new legislation aimed at undocumented immigrants. Vasquez, a partner with the Center for Diversity Leadership and a Senior Associate at the Bay Area Coalition for Equitable Schools, writes that his concern is not with the intentions of those who wrote the law, but its impact on the state's Latino residents and the inevitable racial profiling that will result.

Have you, or anyone you know, been the victim of racial or ethnic profiling? Do you agree with Vasquez that this is one of the dangers inherent in Arizona's new legislation? Please consider his words, and add your comments below.

 

 
 
Today, if I am driving, walking, shopping, or standing on a corner anywhere in
Arizona, the police can stop me without cause, demand my identification and conduct an
immigration status check on me. If I am standing on the street waiting for a ride from a
friend, and that friend drives up, rolls the passenger window down to say hello, and I lean over
and nod my head to say hi, a police officer witnessing this can stop me if he/she believes
that my nod was a gesture indicating I was soliciting employment.
 
If I am driving and a police officer sees me and suspects that I am an “alien who is unlawfully present in
the United States,” I can be stopped in order to determine my citizenship status. If I am driving and have passengers that look like they could be illegal immigrants and I break a traffic law (like stopping on the crosswalk line instead of behind it, making too wide of a left turn, going too slow, driving over the speed limit by one or two miles per hour, not using my turn signal at the proper distance from the turn), a police officer can use that traffic violation as a reason to stop me to see if I am transporting illegal immigrants.
 
What are the police looking for in the above situations in order to fulfill their duty to
capture illegal immigrants? Who fits the profile of a potential illegal immigrant? Who
will they be trained to spot and stop? Someone with brown skin and dark hair.
 
Governor Jan Brewer of the State of Arizona has just signed a law that will result in the
profiling of brown people and the eroding of our civil and constitutional rights. The
intent of this law is to “discourage and deter the unlawful entry and presence of aliens
and economic activity by persons unlawfully present in the United States” (Arizona State
Senate Bill 1070). Although the targets of this law are illegal immigrants, in reality the
true targets will be people with brown skin, dark hair, and dark eyes, regardless of their
citizenship status in the United States.
 
Many are calling this law racist and calling the people who authorized it and support it
racist as well. Debates on the theme “is it racist or not” are spreading like wildfire all
over the nation. Debating racist intent is a waste of time and puts the focus in the wrong
place.
 
Am I disturbed that there are racist lawmakers, political leaders, and lobbyists?
Do I wish we could be rid of all racist individuals in power? Of course. However, it
does not really matter if the authors and supporters of this law are racist; it doesn’t matter
if their intent was racist or not. Focusing attention there is a distraction to the issue and a
no-win strategy. There is no way anyone can prove that these lawmakers are racist;
engaging in that debate only polarizes communities and distracts us from the real issues
of concern and limits our strategies to intervene successfully.
 
What matters most is not the intent of this law or the intentions of the lawmakers, but the
impact it will have. Our focus and our attention should be on that impact. Our debates,
analysis, and decisions as to whether or not to support such a law should be based on
impact. When focusing here, there is no doubt in my mind that the impact of this law
will be racial profiling of brown people and the violation of civil and constitutional
rights.
 
The new law says that racial profiling and violation of civil rights is not acceptable, and
Governor Brewer said that police would be trained to not profile. However, the law says
that when “a reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully
present in the United States, a reasonable attempt shall be made to determine the
immigration status of the person.”
 
Just ask any black man about the existence of racial profiling and you will know
that “driving while black” is real, meaning all a black man has to do to get pulled over by
the police is drive. Now, at least in Arizona, we will have not only driving while brown
but also standing while brown, nodding while brown, and walking while brown.
 
Our greatest danger at this time is the by-stander mentality whereby people stand around watching an injustice unfold before their eyes but do nothing about it. Another danger is those who notice what is happening, are upset about it, and then say “someone ought to do something about this.”
 
Well, you are someone – so do something:
• Study and learn about the Fourth Amendment and how the United States routinely
violates our rights.
• Educate yourself on the facts of the so-called “illegal immigrant” problem and be
prepared to challenge what others say about the negative impact of illegal immigrants
on this country. Is it true that illegal immigrants are causing massive problems in the
U.S.? What benefits do we derive from illegal immigrants? What would happen to
our businesses, services, etc. if all illegal immigrants boycotted work for one week?
• Talk to as many people as you can about the IMPACT of this law rather than the
intent.
• Call for allies to speak up and take action. Ask allies to talk about the IMPACT
rather than labeling the law or the lawmakers as racist.
• Use your ingenuity and imagination to come up with innovative ideas on how to turn
this law around. The use of Facebook to spread the word and creative boycotts of
business in Arizona are a couple of examples.
• Work to pressure the government to repeal this law, but short of that, petition the
State of Arizona to amend the law as follows:
  1.Mandate a citizen’s watch and evaluation team to observe police actions and
report on whom they stopped under this law and why they profiled someone as
suspicious.
  2.Mandate that law enforcement gather and produce data on their stops to show that
they had probable cause.
  3.Eliminate all “enforcement without cause” sections of the law.
  4.Mandate police inform people of their right to refuse a search and conduct a
media campaign targeted to the Latino community to inform them of their rights.
 
This essay was written because I could not sit back and watch injustice unfold
before my eyes without taking action in some way. The spirits of my Mexican
grandparents and of the many allies who are no longer here gave me strength to speak
out. I am taking action not only for my sake but also for the sake of many others, and I
hope you will do so as well.
 

 Hugo Vasquez

Comments

Dear Hugo,Thanks for yr cogent essay, one of the best I've seen. I do not know how to submit a piece for the blog, so I am placing it here, in hope it will be seen by whomever decides what goes into the blog.This cross posted on the LIIA yahoo group list serv. --mo "This is a message for the rest of the world, that hate crimes can't happen, My brother had to pay for it, to make relief for a lot of people in this country."  --Joselo Lucero "We thank the jury for their service, but with all respect, they were very wrong. José Sucuzhañay was killed because Scott Hakim and Keith Phoenix did not like who he was or who they thought he was. And they attacked him for no other reason than their hatred of the gay community and their hatred of Latino and immigrant community."    --NYC Council President Christine Quinn

"Our family still cannot understand how the jury has reached a conclusion that the attack on my brothers and the murder of José was not motivated by hate. The judicial system has failed to send a clear message. This could encourage more hate."                 --Diego Sucuzhañay
  The jury is out on Keith Phoenix, the man directly accused of wielding the bat inflicting severe head trauma causing Jose Suchuzchanay death several days after the atrocious attack. Many, if not most, were incredulous that his partner in crime was found not guilty of a hate crime, even after witnesses stated they yelled anti-Latino & homophobic slurs at the Ecuadorian brothers before, during and after their vile attack; Scott was found guilty of manslaughter one in his just concluded separate trial and is yet to be sentenced. After 2 days out, the jury resumes deliberations tomorrow; they might well return the verdict tomorrow on Mr. Phoenix. I urge all immigrant rights advocates, LI Immigrant Alliance and all its constituent members be ready to stand up for enforcement of NYC, NYS & Federal hate crime statutes that we have seen so seriously undermined by the verdict in the Lucero case, that Conroy was not guilty of a hate crime, among many others. Juries are not taking hate crimes seriously because civic leaders, prosecutors and police are not taking hate crime seriously. Any pool of the public reflects this ambiguity at best, and philosophic/ideologic antipathy at worst to the very concept of hate crime. The Republican Party platform, calls for rescission of all hate crime statues. There is an active, right wing attack, led by Christian fundamentalists, on hate crime statutes on the grounds that it interferes with free speech; that it gives special rights to only "pc" designated minorities; that it is foisted upon our democratic ideals of equality by the "homosexual agenda" and their leftist allies seeking "special rights" denied to others; that hate crime statutes are a direct attack on Christians practicing their religion, specifically citing homosexuality as an abomination against God, stated in the Bible, that must be preached. Hate crime statutes have been weakened or rescinded in several states, where right wing foundations, political and religious organizations see their easiest path to changing or eliminating hate crime legislation. The NRA demonstrated the effectiveness of this strategy of first going to state legislatures to enact one piece of legislation after another to realize political power, including protections for gun manufacturers, where they first enacted legislation banning gun manufacturers from product liability laws, the sole sector of our society's manufacturing so exempted, before they became Federal law. Their campaign resulted in a dramatic change in public opinion and people's postition of settled law regulating guns. In most states, their legislatures mirror the 2 houses of Congress; thus in a state like Missouri, which has 114 counties, a  rural county of Reynolds, with its 6,400 people carries equal political power in the state legislature as St. Louis County with population of 2+ million in a mockery of our one man, one vote criterion of fairness and equalty in our democracy. This coordinated attack on hate crime legislation is making many inroads as the two cited verdicts in the Suchuzchanay and Lucero cases. There is no organized political entity fighting this right wing campaign to weaken, to fundamentally alter the constitutional right to equal protections under law. The LIIA will submit an important report shortly on strengthening hate crime law in Long Island. It will be carefully looked at by many institutions, media and civic leaders, elected or appointed. I urge LIIA constituent members to issue statements reflecting their beliefs in the positive role hate crime laws plays in protecting targeted, unpopular minorities. However flawed their enforcement, this coming verdict of Mr. Phoenix will provide another opportunity to educate our neighbors on the efficacy of these laws and act as a counter force to the stealth nationwide campaign now underway to undermine and vitiate hate crime law in state legislatures. The verdicts already handed down might well have reverberations on the coming trials & verdicts yet to come in the Lucero assassination as well as others now on the docket in NY courts, as elsewhere. Our voices can speak to the verdicts' baneful influence and help to mitigate their spreading effects. If Mr. Phoenix is found guilty of a hate crime it will put in stark focus the miscarriage of justice in the two previous cited verdicts. If he is found not guilty of a hate crime, we must yell from the roof tops the injustice handed down and the unacceptable failure in the prosecution of hate crime. Even if it is unlikely, we can still ask for a DOJ investigation of NYS enforcement and prosecution of county, state and federal hate crime statutes that been shown conclusively to have been thwarted by a confluence of circumstances and decisions in a pattern that distorts our values and deforms our connections to one another. I hope people will have ready a press release on either eventuality on the verdict of a hate crime, yea or nay. "They have extracted a tumor, but the illness, the disease, the cancer of hatred in this community will remain, and it will be the responsibility of the political leaders to begin to extract it."  - The Rev. Allan Ramirez, Lucero family spokesman  thanks, Michael O'Neill,Sag Harbor, NYLI Immigrant Solidarity 

Hey just joining, glad to be here! I'm glad to be here lastly, heading to submit given that I've been reading through a prolonged time.

Sooo anyways, enough about me, see you all-around and hello yet again haha.

BTW, what can I do to change the little picture thingy like some people have, I like it but can't figure it out haha

 Sounds lile you hate those who practice Christian  fundamentalist religion, that is, anybody who believes the Bible.  Is that kind of hatred acceptable in our town?

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