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SNL takes on SB1070. Urgency for reform more than ever.

When Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update (at 27 minutes) made fun of Arizona’s new law, it sounds closer to the truth than ever.

This week Arizona signed the toughest illegal immigration law in the country, which would allow the police to demand identification papers from anyone they suspect is in the country illegally. I know there are some people in Arizona worried that Obama is acting like Hitler, but can we all agree that there’s nothing more Nazi than saying, `Show me your papers? There’s never been a WWII movie that didn’t include the line, “Show me your papers”. It’s their catchphrase… So heads up Arizona, that’s fascism. I know, I know, it’s a dry fascism, but it’s still fascism.

Immigration has finally made headline news. Unfortunately it took Arizona to pass a law like SB1070 that effectively mandates racial profiling for the nation to take notice of the mess that the immigration system is in. While mainstream news outlets featured the harsh anti-immigrant bill and its implications on their weekend programming, outraged immigrant rights organizations have upped the ante on mobilizing for comprehensive immigration reform.

As Governor Jan Brewer signed SB1070 into law last Friday, thousands of protesters were gathered outside Arizona’s Capitol building in Phoenix, kneeling in prayer and silent protest against the bill. Even after a week of tireless vigils, rallies, petitions and letters urging Governor Brewer to veto the bill, protesters did not give up, mobilizing large-scale rallies in Arizona and around the country through the weekend. It started with Rep. Raul Grijalva calling for an economic boycott of Arizona as a consequence of SB1070, a move which led to the closure of his Tucson and Yuma offices after receiving threats of violence.

I am asking national organizations across this country, civic, religious, of color, unions, women’s organizations, not to have their conferences and conventions in this state, until we rectify this law.

In a massive rally outside the Arizona State Capitol over the weekend, leaders and civil rights activists addressed thousands of protesters about the necessary steps that must be taken to oppose SB1070 on the grounds that it is a direct affront to the civil rights of the people of Arizona. Rep. Raul Grijalva continued his calls for an economic boycott, calling on the Obama administration to oppose the new law by refusing to cooperate with local law enforcement in Arizona saying -

We’re going to overturn this unjust and racist law, and then we’re going to overturn the power structure that created this unjust, racist law.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez denounced the Obama administration’s inaction on immigration reform and the federal 287(g) program which he held responsible for setting a precedent for Sen. Russell Pearce’s SB1070 law.

Let me just say, every time the federal government said that you can carry out a 287(g) extension, you gave Arizona an excuse to do 1070…Now it is time to say no more excuses, no more enforcement-only actions. It is time to bring about comprehensive immigration reform once and for all.

In New York, Reverend Al Sharpton referred back to the civil rights movement, saying he would organize “freedom walkers” to challenge the Arizona bill.

We will go to Arizona when this bill goes into effect and walk the streets with people who refuse to give identification and force arrest.

President Obama seems to be feeling the pressure, speaking on the pledging his commitment to enlist bipartisan support for reform and seeing its lack as a key reason for the Arizona bill-

Our failure to act responsibly at the federal level will only open the door to irresponsibility by others.  And that includes, for example, the recent efforts in Arizona, which threatened to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans… if we continue to fail to act at a federal level, we will continue to see misguided efforts opening up around the country.

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano followed suit denouncing the bill on the grounds that-

The Arizona immigration law will likely hinder federal law enforcement from carrying out its priorities of detaining and removing dangerous criminal aliens. With the strong support of state and local law enforcement, I vetoed several similar pieces of legislation as Governor of Arizona because they would have diverted critical law enforcement resources from the most serious threats to public safety and undermined the vital trust between local jurisdictions and the communities they serve.

We can only hope that horrific as it is, the anti-immigrant bill has raised the urgency for immigration reform. This pressure will culminate on May 1st when immigrant rights organizations convene rallies in many parts of the country to drive home the urgent need for just and humane immigration reform.

If you are outraged at SB1070 and its overt violation of human rights, write to Governor Brewer and tell her what you think.

Photo courtesy of Saturday Night Live.

Is the criminal justice system “The New Jim Crow”?

Jarvious Cotton’s great-great-grandfather could not vote as a slave. His great-grandfather was beaten to death by the Klu Klux Klan for attempting to vote. His grandfather was prevented from voting by Klan intimidation; his father was barred by poll taxes and literacy tests. Today, Cotton cannot vote because he, like many black men in the United States, has been labeled a felon and is currently on parole. – From ‘The New Jim Crow’.

Placed within the context of the euphoria around the election of President Obama as the nation’s first black President, Michelle Alexander‘s first book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” argues that while on the surface it seems like racial subordination is no longer entrenched in the law books, the truth is Jim Crow laws have simply been redesigned and appropriated by the criminal justice system.

Some shocking stats. One in every eight black men in their twenties are in prison or jail on any given day. There are more African Americans who are in jail, prison, probation or parole today, than were enslaved in 1850. Alexander reacts against the dominant narrative of racial justice which says that while there is still a way to go, America has come a long way from it’s history of racial discrimination, and instead explains the way that the system works to exercise a contemporary form of racial control, a process that continues long after the individuals are officially released out of the system. From Chapter 5 of the book-

The first stage is the roundup [when] vast numbers of people are swept into the criminal justice system by the police, who conduct drug operations primarily in poor communities of color… Once arrested, defendants are generally denied meaningful legal representation and pressured to plead guilty, whether they are or not. Once convicted… virtually every aspect of one’s life is regulated and monitored by the system. The final stage… often [has] a greater impact on one’s life course than the months or years one actually spends behind bars. [Parolees] will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives-denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Unable to surmount these obstacles, most will eventually return to prison and then be released again, caught in a closed circuit of perpetual marginality.

In Alexander’s opinion, far from living in a post-racial utopia, the last few decades have seen the United States move towards a “color-coded caste system” where minority groups are targeted, maligned and marginalized by the criminal justice system. She attributes this increase in the mass incarceration of African Americans over the past thirty years to draconian laws that have been constructed to wage “The War on Drugs”, a battle waged against low-income communities of color, even though research consistently counters the claim that any one racial community uses and sells illegal drugs more than any other.

It’s a moment to contemplate race and class in today’s America. To go beyond the illusion that all is well to a striking reminder that racial injustice is still deeply entrenched in the country. According to Alexander, nothing short of an informed and agitated movement will put an end to this perpetuation of racial inequality in the guise of enforcing justice.

Photo courtesy of newjimcrow.com

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