As a Black man who works primarily to address the issues of my community, I AM asking the Black community to see Arizona Senate Bill 1070 for what it truly is – racism in a legislative form. Given the sentiment in some parts of the Black community that undocumented immigration is a cause for decreased job opportunities for our people, my argument may be difficult to initially accept. However, we must reject the very strong, and in some ways understandable urge to utilize our deplorable employment situation to condone racism in a very blatant form.
SB 1070 – in its original and modified form – is law based upon the same problematic premise that has killed, injured and maimed our people for hundreds of years. It espouses the belief that a non-white racial group must be monitored, contained and controlled through the most aggressive means of the law. For example, SB 1070 gives non-immigration enforcement police officers the power to identify and detain individuals as undocumented immigrants. In the version first signed by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, this can happen during any contact that police officers deemed legitimate. The revised draft states that officers can only do so during a stop, arrest or detainment. From our community’s standpoint this change means little. Historically, legal language such as this has been used to substantiate the practice of racist Black codes in the post-Civil War south and our current scourge of racial profiling by law enforcement. Like the above examples, SB 1070 provides cops with the unfettered ability to enforce racist perceptions of a particular group – regardless of evidence. To this point, and despite rhetoric around the bill’s non-racist intent, there is nothing contained in the bill that clearly protects U.S.-born citizens who happen to be Latino from getting pulled over and arrested at higher rates as a result of this legal maneuver. This is yet another disturbing and unfortunate parallel with law enforcement’s racial profiling of Black people.
Another problematic clause in SB 1070 is the fact that law enforcement officers can arrest anyone, without warrant, who they believe committed a crime that could lead to deportation. Given our historical struggle with being abused and mistreated by the U.S. justice system, Black people should strongly reject the expansion of law enforcement’s power to arbitrarily arrest anyone. We should reject this because we know from our own history that this power has and will continue to be used to incarcerate higher numbers of people of color – citizen or not. As our experiences with slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and de-facto discrimination prove, whenever the white power structure targets a particular group, they will empower a diverse array of individuals with policing rights. During the 19th century, southern whites of almost every economic level and occupation could detain any Black people for anything. SB 1070 creates a similar situation by empowering every law enforcement officer in the state of Arizona to arrest and deport individuals for immigration-related offenses. These are principles and practices that Black people must reject and fight against every single time.
With unemployment in double digits and many of our neighborhoods becoming increasingly Latino, the Black community has found it difficult to build solidarity with the immigrant rights movement. Furthermore, the immigrant rights movement has done a terrible job of bringing in Black people – even Black immigrants – into the work. However, one of the reasons Black people has played the vanguard role of bringing and expanding justice within the United States is our capacity to do what is moral and just in the face of isolation and opposition. It is consistent with our community’s historical struggle for human rights and equal opportunity to strongly denounce SB 1070 and the copy cat legislation that promises to follow.
In spite of our legacy of progressive and revolutionary activism, there will be those in the Black community that will insist that undocumented immigration must be dealt with aggressively, due in large part to the perception that Latino immigrants have taken jobs from our people. While immigration has presented some challenges – especially around community demographics – we must remember that living wage jobs in areas like South Los Angeles began disappearing years before Latinos became the majority in the area. Companies like General Motors, Kaiser Steel and Firestone began moving out of U.S. urban areas as early as the 1960s because they wanted to exploit workers in other countries for lower pay. As Black people, we must ultimately look at ourselves for our employment problems. Despite an increase of Black college graduates over the last 30 years, our own Black business class has not successfully created living wage jobs in our community. Perhaps if we practiced the principles of Marcus Garvey and Elijah Muhammad and stayed dedicated to the model of Black Wall Street in Tulsa, we wouldn’t be so pre-occupied with the perception of another group taking our jobs. Perhaps if our Black elite and business class invested, rather than avoided poor Black communities like Westmont-Athens and Watts, we would be further along in terms of providing employment to our people who need it the most. In any case, we cannot cease to carry on our community’s dual mission of achieving liberation for our people and fighting for justice in the world abroad. This, in my opinion, would necessitate a strong condemnation of SB 1070.