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A mural in Arizona lightens as race issues get darker

Some months ago, local artists in Prescott, Arizona were commissioned to paint a “Go Green” mural outside Miller Valley Elementary School to promote environmentally friendly transportation. The finished piece featured portraits of four children, with a Latino boy holding a central place, drawn from photographs of children that attended Miller Valley, one of the most ethnically diverse schools in Prescott. But R.E. Wall, the artist that headed the downtown mural project, said that the artists working on the mural were regularly subjected to racial slurs and epithets while they were painting the two large walls located in the middle of one of the town’s most trafficked intersections. Comments such as “you’re desecrating our school,”” Get that n***** off our wall,”” Get the s*** off the wall” were common.

Recently, the school principal Jeff Lane asked the artists to alter the mural by lightening the skin tone of the children depicted in it. While he insisted that his alteration request was purely an aesthetic one related to shading “that made the faces darker than they are,” it is difficult not to attribute his alteration order to the taunts and racial comments that the mural was receiving. Wall said that the principal asked him to make the children’s faces appear “happier and brighter,” but he is convinced that “it is being lightened because of the controversy.”

Prescott City Councilman Steve Blair has led a public campaign on his talk show on a Prescott radio station (KYCA-AM) to remove the mural. Without doubt, Blair’s raving about the mural on his show has added fuel to an already brewing controversy. “Art is in the eye of the beholder, but I say [the mural] looks like graffiti in L.A.,” Blair said. Following that, he mistook the ethnicity of the child at the center of the mural and said on his radio show -

I am not a racist individual, but I will tell you depicting a black guy in the middle of that mural, based upon who’s President of the United States today and based upon the history of this community, when I grew up we had four black families – who I have been very good friends with for years – to depict the biggest picture on that building as a black person, I would have to ask the question, Why?

He finished his rant off saying that diversity is a word he “can’t stand.”

Something very worrying is afoot when it comes to race in Arizona, and it brings to mind a certain new Arizona law, scheduled to go into effect at the end of July, that makes it a crime to be undocumented in the state, and mandates local police to question and detain people who appear “reasonably suspicious” of being undocumented.

The problem is being made worse by the ill-founded justification that is being bandied about for the new racial profiling law. Media personalities like Bill O’Reilly and legislators like Russell Pearce (the sponsor of SB 1070) have popularized the misnomer that laws like these are the only solution to an exploding crime rate in Arizona, which they link to its immigrant population. Bill O’ Reilly’s rhetoric in defense of the new law goes like this-

“The Arizona authorities say we’re desperate. We don’t have the money. Our crime problem is through the roof. Phoenix one of the most dangerous cities in the country. We got to do something.” (May 4, 2010); “So the state of Arizona faced with an overwhelming crime problem, social chaos and a bankrupt treasury had to do something.” (May 6, 2010); “Arizona is  overrun with crime and everything else and people getting slaughtered on their ranches. I mean, it’s insane.” (May 21, 2010)

The folks at FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) have produced a solid list of figures that counter O’ Reilly and prove that the crime wave in Arizona is nothing but racist hype and fear-mongering. In reality, crime rates have been on the decrease in Arizona for many years despite the presence of undocumented immigrants. The city of Phoenix issued a statement saying that in spite of a growing population and challenging economy -

Violent and property crimes in Phoenix continue to drop…The numbers of crimes in 2009 are on track to be the lowest in 15 years…Through November 2009, Phoenix’s violent crime rate has continued to decline, dropping 18 percent over the same period in 2008.

If people like O’ Reilly did their research they would have come across a report released by the Immigration Policy Center that explicitly states that immigrants are, in fact, less likely to commit crime than non-immigrants. According to the 2008 report, crime rates are lowest in states that have a high immigrant population, often making them safer than other places. For example, it notes that El Paso, Texas, a poor city with a large population of undocumented people, is one of the safest cities in the United States. A 2007 University of California Study found that for any ethnic group, the rates of incarceration for young men were consistently lowest for immigrants, regardless of their education or class status.

The good news is that since FAIR circulated their “Stop O’Reilly” petition, he seems to have held back on his false accusations. Unfortunately though, this will not prevent the draconian SB1070 from being implemented on July 29th and with such a law in action that works to generate a fear of local law enforcement in the community, we can probably count on efficient crime solving going from bad to worse. Worst of all the implications of such a law (and the racial profiling that it will encourage) is that incidents such as the one in Prescott will seem less and less outrageous in a culture where the state itself sanctions questioning people based on their perceived appearance.

Photo courtesy of nydailynews.com

Condemnation of Arizona’s anti-immigrant bill goes national

Tonight, Arizona’s future hangs in the balance as Arizona Governor Jan Brewer decides whether to sign SB 1070, one of the harshest anti-immigrant bills in recent memory, into law. The bill will be forwarded to the Governor’s desk this evening and could ostensibly be signed into law by midnight tonight.

Ironically titled the “Safe Neighborhoods Bill”, the bill makes it mandatory for state and local police to stop anyone based on a “reasonable suspicion” of being undocumented, effectively mandating racial profiling and creating panic across communities. Immigration law is within the domain of the federal government, not local police, but the bill is egregious even in its application of due process, allowing for the arrest of people without a warrant including day laborers and those who hire them. It also makes it mandatory for local towns and cities to share information with the Department of Homeland Security and any citizen can press charges against local administrations who they believe are not be enforcing the law.

If passed into law SB 1070 will have enormous repercussions on the United States. Already, a senator in Ohio is looking for a co-sponsor to introduce a similar bill, and similar movements are expected across many states. Condemnation of the bill has reached massive proportions and a cohesive movement of immigration groups, agriculture, labor, police foundations and civil rights groups is emerging.

It started with Congressman Luis Gutierrez  calling on President Obama denouncing the Obama administration’s silence on the bill. Condemning deportations that have reached 1000 a day, half of which are originating in Ohio, he said-

Giving police such a broad mandate to arrest and book people “suspected” of looking a certain way isn’t just an invitation to racial profiling, it’s like waving a green flag and saying “gentlemen start your engines”… If we allow police-state tactics in Arizona to continue, the level of basic community security will erode and civil unrest could escalate. The President must act now to diffuse the Arizona panic and take control of a deteriorating situation that could become a national crisis.

The media reacted almost immediately. In a heated exchange with Fox’s Bill O’Reilly, Alfredo Gutierrez, editor of the La Frontera Times, criticized the SB 1070 bill for taking immigration law enforcement away from the federal Government, referring to it as a “civil libertarian’s nightmare…You don’t have to throw out civil liberties because you have a major issue.”

Vigils, rallies and press conferences against the bill are reaching a fevered pitch. Advocacy groups across the country, such as Amnesty International, Reform Immigration For America, NDLON, and the National Immigration Forum are joining groups in Arizona including the Border Action Network, the Puente Movement and Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in denouncing the bill. A group of people are fasting until the bill is vetoed. PSA’s and two hotlines have been introduced to educate people about the bill and dispel some of the fear and panic created by its introduction in communities. The National Day Laborers Organizing Network (NDLON) is organizing a press conference outside the Department of Homeland Security HQ in D.C. to call on Assistant Secretary John Morton to denounce the bill, coming on the heels of demands by civil rights groups to end the 287(g) and other programs that mandate local and state police to enforce federal immigration law. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) is taking legal action against the bill if signed into law, arguing that it violates due process and Supreme Court precedents, urging Governor Brewer to recognize that-

… This law is an open invitation to racial discrimination, community discord, and naked clash between state and federal government. The law’s constitutional flaws will inevitably attract costly legal challenges, to the detriment of all Arizona.

Take urgent action today and ensure that Gov. Brewer vetoes SB 1070.

Photo courtesy of www.altoarizona.com

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