‘Son, Do You Know Why I’m Stopping You For?’


This comment leapt out at my while reading the NYT’s scene story on Arizona’s SB 1070, the state’s draconian new immigration law.

Ron White, 52, said he felt a sense of relief that something was finally being done about “the illegals” — whom he blames for ills like congregating on the streets, breaking into homes in his neighborhood, draining tax dollars and taking jobs from Americans.

“I sure hope it does have an effect,” Mr. White said of the new law as he packed his car with groceries. “I wouldn’t want to show proof of citizenship, but I also don’t feel it is racial profiling. You are going to look different if you are an alien, and cops know.

C’mon, y’all. This is stupid. We don’t need to pretend as if this is some hypothetical, and that this law might have the unintended consequence of allowing Arizona law enforcement to racially profile, detain and harass Latin@s. We already know it will, and we just need to look at how the state police have done their jobs in recent years before SB 1070’s passage for proof.

Guadalupe is one of the small Maricopa communities that have a contract for police protection with the sheriff’s office. Its population is almost entirely Latino and Native American, and one day last year [Sheriff Joe Arpaio] launched a major raid there, with a helicopter, paddy wagons, and scores of deputies, including helmeted officers on horseback. They stopped and demanded I.D. from pedestrians, motorists — basically every dark-skinned person they saw. (The sheriff’s office calls these raids “crime suppression” sweeps, and insists that the raiders stop only people who are violating the law.) It was standard practice, Arpaio style, complete with a press release and news crews. Indeed, it was the third such operation in less than a month. But dusty little Guadalupe is not a standard Maricopa community. It is an old town, a throwback, not given to the transience of urban sprawl. Many of its residents live in the houses they were born in; very few are foreign-born. And few appreciated the invasion by Sheriff Joe and his team.

Protesters materialized, many waving homemade placards urging Arpaio to leave. Motorists honked in support. Guadalupe’s young mayor, Rebecca Jimenez,  confronted Arpaio in a parking lot where he had established his command center. Why, she wanted to  know, did his press release say that Guadalupe town officials were alarmed about illegal aliens in their midst? They were not. Arpaio went ballistic. “He was waving his arms like a crazy man,” Jimenez told me. “I had to wipe the spit off my face. He said, you’re the one that caused all these riots!’ He said he was going to come back the next day. I said we didn’t want him. They did come back. But he didn’t.”

Arpaio chose to direct the next day’s Guadalupe operation, which was more modest, from a remote command post, and Jimenez was hailed, at least in some circles, for her courage. The two-day raid netted only nine suspected illegal immigrants, but reportedly produced a high volume of traffic tickets, including charges for “improper use of horn.” Jimenez noted that the raid came in the middle of an election campaign. He used our community to get media attention,” she said. “You know, Brown Town. But he got more than he bargained for.”

The Guadalupe raid did have a chilling effect. It began the day before a Catholic-church confirmation ceremony — a big deal in Guadalupe — was scheduled to take place in the village plaza, and although the children had prepared for months, a number of them were afraid to come out, and missed their own confirmations.

[Arpaio] is, as ever, unapologetic. Over lunch in New York, he told me that he doesn’t mind the effect he has. “If they’re afraid to go to church, that’s good.”

This law’s supporters basically have to believe that its passage will spur deputies and cops into suddenly employing their powers with restraint and discretion, or  develop some magical  ability to tell the “good guys” from the “bad guys.” Again, this is stupid. When you focus the broad attention of law enforcement on a particular community, you implicate everyone in that community in some kind of criminality. It doesn’t lead to fewer baseless (and potentially disastrous) police stops and arrests — it leads to more, because  everyone is a suspect. It’s also incredibly myopic, as these tactics sow antipathy between the communities on lockdown and the authorities policing them that becomes extremely difficult to dismantle, if it even can be — which seems like a  disastrously high price to pay because a bunch of cynical lawmakers want to shore up their “conservative” bona fides in an election year.



Gene "G.D." Demby is the founder and editor of PostBourgie. In his day job, he blogs and reports on race and ethnicity for NPR's Code Switch team.
  • JShmoe

    Not that I had any plans to, but in case any come up, I for one am not going to Arizona anytime in the near future, and I hope more people and organizations do the same.

    Has anyone else started to realize how reactionary the people of Arizona must be? Lets not forget this is the same state that in the 80s refused to declare Martin Luther King Jr. day a holiday – until they were boycotted and lost the super bowl. That tells you something right there. Now they pass this wildly offensive racial-profiling law. And did anyone else catch another piece of legislation that passed last week – anyone over 21 can now legally carry a concealed weapon in Arizona. Really?

    The people of Arizona apparently support this really right wing Agenda of the state. As long as they do so, I think those of us who disagree should make that known by how we spend our money. The grand canyon isn’t going anywhere, until they get right I’ll have to check it our via Google images.

  • Dylan

    Yeah, cops just know that someone’s illegal, just like they can tell when someone’s a drug dealer or a terrorist. Thankfully, at least one national government is trying to help address this by boycotting. Maybe we should revert AZ to territorial status and make Puerto Rico a state.

  • keke

    Yeah, I can’t see myself making any trips to Arizona any time soon. I wonder if the 2011 Baseball All Star game will take place in Arizona if this law is still in place. But this law gets to the broader problems of the republican party; these people are systematically shrinking their GOP.

    It’s just another example of this short sighted strategy to jump on the populist bandwagon just to gain votes for the 2010 midterm elections. Are they even thinking about 2012? Are they thinking about 10 or 20 years from now? They have to accept that America is getting more and more diverse and these race baiting tactics are extremely harmful.

    Just like this Tim James language campaign ad: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B9ohsvJHkbY

    none of this makes any sense to me…and i don’t even want to start on John McCain and how he is aligning himself with this insanity. what the hell happened to him?

    And I love how so many politicians are saying that this Arizona racial profiling law is just a response to how ineffective Washington has been in addressing immigration reform. Yet those same politicians feel that they can’t address immigration reform because they have too much on their hands right now.

    Honestly, it is all just really exhausting. I feel like i need a break from politics.

    • I was just about to post about that James ad. It’s absolutely egregious.

    • I don’t know that McCain wasn’t always this slimy. Maybe we’re all more inclined to see the deeds behind his words after his godawful presidential campaign.

      And of all the arguments made for profiling immigrants, the dumbest (because they’re all dumb) is that it’s to crack down on crime. That’s because statistics consistently show that U.S. border cities are generally safer than others.

      From http://reason.com/archives/2009/07/06/the-el-paso-miracle: “If you want to find a safe city, first determine the size of the immigrant population,” says Jack Levin, a criminologist at Northeastern University in Massachusetts. “If the immigrant community represents a large proportion of the population, you’re likely in one of the country’s safer cities. San Diego, Laredo, El Paso—these cities are teeming with immigrants, and they’re some of the safest places in the country.”

      And here’s some links about San Diego (http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/2010/jan/28/citys-crime-rate-fell-again-in-09-stats-show/) and El Paso (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=102256207), to name a couple cities.

      But of course, this has never been about the facts.

      • I was just about to post about crime rates being lower in areas with large immigrant populations. You’re right, blackink, this has never been about the facts. It’s xenophobia, codified into state law.

      • keke

        Good point about John McCain….I really only started paying attention to him during the 2000 republican primaries. So I’m sure that there is a lot I don’t know about his political tactics.

        And yes, Tim James is just disgusting. Especially at the end when he claims that as a businessman he understands that it is smart economic policy to only offer the test in English….seriously, WTF?

        That is so ridiculous! There are so many reasons why only offering the test in English is BAD economic policy.

        and that is the part i don’t understand. one would think that as politicians they would see the long term benefit of opening the party up and being more inclusive.

  • The person quoted in the New York Times story is a fool and here is the proof. In the same breath, he advocates making police [more] unaccountable AND implies that they should be trusted. No one who is unaccountable can ever be trusted — by anyone, in any situation, to any degree.