Monday, May 17, 2010

Hurricane in Arizona

Here comes the story of the Hurricane
The man the authorities came to blame
For something that he never done
Put him in a prison cell but one time he coulda been
The champion of the world.




I'm going to start by recommending a fabulous article that ties it all together: baseball, terrorism and immigration. Really, you're saying, really? Yes, I am. Hey, I found one about baseball and cockfighting, didn't I? Basically, a 17 year old fool (redundant?) ran onto the field at a Phillies game and was tasered. The author, Will Bunch, reminds readers that Tasers have been justified as a tool to be used in situations when lethal force could alternately be used (I'm eerily reminded of Oscar Grant, but I'm not going there right now). When the kid ran on the field, it was annoying, a breach of baseball etiquette (I know, I've been on this for awhile), legally it was a misdemeanor, but it was not a violent act requiring police to escalate use of force. As Bunch writes, "There was a simpler, quainter time when causing pain to another person was called...violence," i.e. before 9/11. Bunch does not want to go there, but his readers reminded him of higher levels of security and he asks "must we see every single act of wrongdoing, even minor ones, through the prism of 9/11? Is a fan running on a field in the same ballpark with killing nearly 3,000 people? What has happened to us in this country?"

Bunch goes on to discuss how national responses to terrorism are "trickling down" to affect civil rights, violence, baseball(!), and immigration. Here comes Arizona. (He also discusses the failed(?) Times Square bombing, but I'm not going there tonight either.) He writes
But even more damaging is the way that attitude -- that any kind of lawbreaking or even potential lawbreaking requires the harshest possible response, with no regard to more than 200 years of momentum toward basic civil liberties and human rights -- is filtering down to other aspects of American life. Exhibit A is what's happening in Arizona.

Let's be honest -- although there are some very bad apples scattered in there, the vast majority of undocumented immigrants are the Steve Consalvis [fool who jumped on the field] of the American political debate. They've jumped over a fence and are running around on the field of national economy, and just like Consalvi they've broken a law but also aren't a threat to cause serious injury (especially with studies that show undocumented migrants have a low crime rate and tend to even pay more in taxes than they get back in services).


Here comes the story of the Hurricane
The man the authorities came to blame
For something that he never done
Put him in a prison cell but one time he coulda been
The champion of the world.


Arizona signed a law, SB 1070 that aims to "identify, prosecute and deport illegal immigrants." Immigrants have to carry their papers around and actually requires police officers "“when practicable” to detain people they reasonably suspected were in the country without authorization" (source). The civil rights violations go on and on. Within days, a story was on the news of an American born truck driver with brown skin being arrested and having to sit in a tank until his wife came with his birth certificate. Cities in California have announced boycotts of Arizona, groups are trying to get MLB to move the All Star Game that's scheduled there in 2011 (there I go with baseball again) and the MLB Players Association has also come out against the law. The crap doesn't stop there: Arizona tried to ban MLK day, has banned ethnic studies, and tried to keep teachers with accents out of schools. Yeah.

The border is a Big Deal. Immigration has always stressed (American) people out. Whiteness, and defining whiteness has always stressed people out. There had to be some justification for killing brown people (there's that violence thing, though without tasers) and "settling" or "exploring" not-so-empty lands. And then "importing" brown people to do the work that white people didn't want to do. And then making rules about which people could and couldn't come in- Chinese Exclusion Acts, etc- whole political movements like the Know Nothings who defined what was "white enough." None of this "keep them out" stuff is new to America, unfortunately. That doesn't make it OK. But I agree with Bunch- the post 9/11 factor a) gives nationalism/border strengthening more justifiable to some ("illegal" immigration=terrorism), b) makes border strengthening more militarized and violent and c) allows people to conflate skin color, immigration status and good/bad/evil/dangerous, etc.

Here comes the story of the Hurricane
The man the authorities came to blame
For something that he never done
Put him in a prison cell but one time he coulda been
The champion of the world.


I keep quoting Bob Dylan because I think the story of Rubin Carter, the Hurricane, is relevant. The cops knew that Carter was innocent, but set him up- a black man who was easy to frame during a time of race riots. The trial was set up so that black people and white people alike believe Carter was guilty and only the witness and the listener know the truth. (Note, this is how the song goes, you can read more here.) The situation with Mexico is complicated. I don't claim to have any answers. On the other hand, I feel like criminalizing immigrants is clearly moving in the wrong direction as always has been- the United States has always discounted its immigrant past while claiming to be proud of it. It doesn't work well both ways. Brown people continue to do the work that lighter skinned people do not want to do, at wages that white people spit on. I didn't go in depth on this in my review of Imperial, but Imperial County, a border county full of immigrants and migrants of varying immigration status ranks first in California counties in poverty and first in child poverty. Work is seasonal at best, there are no benefits to speak of, and the work requires migrating around to follow the crops. It sucks, basically. Crossing the border is a shitty project that often lands people in jail at best (giving them a criminal history- a catch 22, since this affects their future immigration status), and dead, at worst, as the border gets more and more militarized. And, now, living while brown is a potential crime. The analogies to Holocaust era Europe have been made, and I think of the Jim Crow era South, moved to Arizona: in the wrong state with the wrong paperwork. This is America in 2010?

Again, I don't claim to have the answers. But contracting civil rights in the name of preventing "another 9/11" is wrong, and we need to stand up and say so. Increasing "border security" and targeting brown people, or people who speak Spanish (or Arabic) is wrong, and we need to say so. We need proactive policies that decrease terrorism because there isn't a need for terrorism, not because we've put all our fingers in all the holes in all the dikes. The United States needs to move towards a policy of inclusion, rather than exclusion, which leads to hatred, derision, and ultimately terrorism. Immigrants want to come to the United States, for one reason or another. They are literally dying to cross the border. The vast majority of immigrants are not coming to the United States to commit acts of terrorism. We need to figure out how to make this work, not to criminalize people, or penalize people, or taserize people.

Now all the criminals in their coats and their
ties
Are free to drink martinis and watch the sun rise
While Rubin sits like Buddha in a ten-foot cell
An innocent man in a living hell
That's the story of the Hurricane
But it won't be over till they clear his name
And give him back the time he's done
Put him in a prison cell but one time he coulda been
The champion of the world.

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