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The NBA gets political as lawsuits against Arizona’s law pile up

Remember how Arizona’s Gov. Brewer signed off on a bill that allows police to stop someone based on “reasonable suspicion” of them being undocumented and when asked about the obvious racial profiling implications of the law, said that she “didn’t know” what an undocumented person looked like? Following the trend that Jon Stewart perfected, basketball legend Kobe Bryant’s wife, Vanessa Bryant made a bold statement against the law by wearing a “Do I look illegal?” T-shirt at the NBA’s Western Conference Finals in Los Angeles on Monday.

The buzz on the street is that Vanessa Bryant’s statement was a direct retort to L.A. Lakers coach Phil Jackson’s comments in support of Arizona’s new law, SB1070. Phil Jackson surprised a number of people when, during an interview with ESPN columnist J.A. Adande, he expressed support for the anti-immigrant law and practically chastised the management and players of the Phoenix Suns basketball team for taking an active stance against the law. In Jackson’s opinion, the law is doing nothing but “adapting” Federal immigration law to the state, by “giving it some teeth to be able to enforce it.” Given the coach’s strong Democrat leanings in the past, Adande was surprised at his take on the matter. In response to the way that the Phoenix Suns’ owner, general manager and key players like Steve Nash have spoken out against the measure, Coach Jackson said-

I don’t think teams should get involved in the political stuff. And I think this one’s still kind of coming out to balance as to how it’s going to be favorably looked upon by our public. If I heard it right the American people are really for stronger immigration laws, if I’m not mistaken. Where we stand as basketball teams, we should let that kind of play out and let the political end of that go where it’s going to go.

Given that the National Basketball Association has come out and called the law “disturbing,” it is no surprise that a lot of people were counting on the L.A. Lakers to take a stand against it. Considering the Los Angeles City Council passed a resolution to boycott business with Arizona, there were high expectations that as representatives of an area with the largest Hispanic population in the country, the Lakers would make a symbolic gesture in opposition to the law. However, apart from Vanessa Bryant’s fashion statement and a small protest staged outside the Staples center on the eve of the game, there was very little politics involved in the game on Monday. Timothy Rutten, in an impassioned op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, expressed his deep disappointment at Jackson’s position, and urged the players of the Lakers team to take a stand. Speaking about the “clarification” that coach Jackson later offered to the press, Rutten writes-

It won’t do. Jackson’s original statement was not a declaration of neutrality, nor was it an argument for holding sport above politics. It was an endorsement of the Arizona law and a criticism of another NBA team that opposes it…If the Lakers, who have given this community so much joy and excellence, close their eyes to Arizona’s affront to so many of its members, then at least one disappointed fan will be withholding his support, and inviting as many others as will listen to do the same.

But while coach Phil Jackson and his team steered clear of mixing politics with sports, the mayors of the two cities (Los Angeles and Phoenix) used the opportunity to expose the absurdity of Arizona’s law. Mayor Phil Gordon of Phoenix and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa, both of whom have taken a strong stance against the law, turned the tradition of a friendly wager between sporting cities into a political statement about the harsh enforcement law. In a conscious move to use humor to draw attention to the law, Mayor Villaraigosa sent a letter to Mayor Gordon proposing that if the Lakers lost, Los Angeles would pay by accepting Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County. Taking a stab at the many allegations of racial profiling against Sheriff Arpaio, Mayor Villaraigosa suggested that “Perhaps a stint in Los Angeles would teach him that you cannot deduce immigration status simply by looking at a person.” He joked about the implications of the law saying that if the Phoenix Suns star player, Canadian Steve Nash, was stopped as per the law, they would happily welcome him in L.A. Conversely, if the Suns lost, the Mayor joked that L.A. would sent across the Republican candidates for California governor Steve Poizner and Meg Whitman, since they are “currently battling for supremacy on the issue of illegal immigration. Perhaps some time in Arizona would show them both that being governor isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be.” Mayor Gordon accepted the wager.

The Lakers beat the Suns hollow on Monday, and while the wager remains in jest, a number of civil rights group went ahead and filed a class action lawsuit against the state of Arizona and SB1070 this week. As planned, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU); the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF); and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) challenged the new law on the grounds that it was unconstitutional, violating the 1st and 4th amendments; that it encroached on the Federal government’s jurisdiction over immigration policy; and that it would lead to racial profiling. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of labor groups, a Tucson church, social service organizations and individuals, seeks to halt the controversial law from going into effect, something that is slated to happen on July 29th.

By this point, opposition to SB1070 has come from diverse quarters, and taken the form of television spoofs, protests, fashion statements, wagers, and lawsuits, to name a few. We only hope that this is not in vain and this extreme measure is halted before it is too late.

Photo courtesy of hoopsnotes.com

Sponsor of SB1070 doesn’t understand it. The Daily Show does (and doesn’t like it).

Three simple images. Dora, Eric from Chips, and a serial killer. Now guess – who looks “reasonably suspicious” of not having papers and therefore should be stopped and questioned by the Arizona police as per it’s new law, SB1070?

That’s the question Daily Show host Jon Stewart asked on the show last night, referencing the images above. Calling out the “draconian new immigration law” for being an affront to democracy by requiring people to carry their documents on them, he likened it to a time in the pre-civil rights era when newly freed black slaves were required to carry IDs. Jokes apart, the staged sketch gave us a little taste of what life could be like if SB1070 was, in fact, enforced in Arizona. It was the same question posed to Governor Jan Brewer, when signing the bill into law, to which she replied, “I don’t know what an undocumented immigrant looks like?”

Confusion around the bill is rife. In an interview on MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews, co-sponsor of the bill Senator Huppenthal agreed that it would be racial profiling were officers to check the status of someone based on “reasonable suspicion”, thereby going against the statute of the bill that he signed into law. About 8 mins. into the clip, Chris Matthews asks Senator Huppenthal -

Under the law you passed and was signed by the governor this week, can a police officer who spots a car with five or six people in it, who he thinks because of instinct, experience, whatever, evidence, whatever you use— can he stop that car and say, I think these people are here illegally, I‘m going to stop and check them?  Can he under the law do that, without any crime involved?  Can he do that?

After hedging the question, Senator Huppenthal answered-

You know, the racial profiling was illegal before this bill. It‘s illegal after it.  The bill itself makes it illegal…No, he cannot.  That would be – that would just simply be racial profiling, and that would not be permitted under the law.

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Since its passage, civil rights groups, advocacy groups and President Obama have critiqued SB1070 for practically mandating racial profiling and violating fundamental notions of fairness. Clearly, when its co-sponsors cannot articulate its impact, then its effects will be even more adverse. These are already being felt on Arizona’s economy and tourism as calls for an economic boycott come to light, even as Governor Brewer continues to deny any wrongdoing. Meanwhile Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon has taken a strong opposition stand to what he considers an unconstitutional and unenforceable law, including approaching the Phoenix City Council to give their support to a lawsuit filed by the city of Phoenix to prevent the laws implementation because of its effects on civil rights and costs associated with its wrongdoings.

SB1070 is going to have ripple effects. For the state of Arizona, for its potential copycat effect across the nation, and for the ideals of equality and justice. Take action now and stop this dangerous law from being implemented.