Invoking the image of the civil rights movement of a half century ago, the Rev. Al Sharpton promised Wednesday to recreate it in Arizona if a new immigration law takes effect, filling the jails here with protestors.
Invoking the image of the civil rights movement of a half century ago, the Rev. Al Sharpton promised Wednesday to recreate it in Arizona if a new immigration law takes effect, filling the jails here with protestors engaged in civil disobedience.
Sharpton, in a speech to an overflow crowd at the Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church, said the first effort will be to overturn the law, set to take effect July 29, which requires police to question those who they have reasonable suspicion are in this country illegally. And foes of the law are asking President Obama to reassert the federal government’s exclusive authority to regulate who can come to this country.
“But I want you to know tonight that if those challenges don’t stop this law, if the federal government will not intervene ... then I want you to know that from all over this country we will bring people into Arizona,” he told the crowd just ahead of a candlelight march on the Capitol.
“We will bring them in the spirit of the Freedom Riders,” referring to multi ethnic, religious and racial groups who descended on the South in the days of segregation. He said they will walk the streets of Phoenix arm in arm.
“And if you lock up one, you’ll have to lock us all up,” he said.
Sharpton said the very nature of the law will lead to racial profiling despite claims by Gov. Jan Brewer and other supporters that is not allowed and will not be tolerated. And he said those who are not Latino should not believe this is not their fight.
“If they do it to Latinos today, they’ll do it to your group tomorrow,” he said. “If you open the door to a double standard for anybody, you open the door to a double standard for everybody.”
And Sharpton had a special message for blacks who made up a large part of the audience.
“Let me tell you something: After dark we all look Mexican riding down the street,” he said.
Sharpton specifically chided Brewer who has said those who criticize the bill have not read it. He said he has. But he also has read the Constitution and the Bible, suggesting they trump the statute.
Nor did he believe that, as someone not from Arizona, what is happening here is not his business.
“When I came to go out in the outside of Phoenix and go to one of the spas and get a massage and tan — even though I was already tan — they told me, ‘Welcome to Arizona,’” Sharpton said.
“But when I came in today because they’re trying to sanitize and legalize racial profiling, they tell me to mind my own business,” he continued. “So let me get this right: If I want to give you my money, I’m welcome.”
And to underline that this is not an issue strictly of outsiders, Sharpton marched on the Capitol wearing a “Los Suns” jersey.
The uniforms were ordered by Suns’ owner Robert Sarver for Wednesday’s Game 2 of the playoffs with the San Antonio Spurs, which was held on Cinco de Mayo. But Sarver said the uniforms were sought by his players in protest of the new law.
Brewer press aide Paul Senseman did not return calls seeking response to Sharpton’s comments. But Brewer, through her political campaign, did put out a statement in response to some related calls for an economic boycott by sports teams of Arizona and, specifically, for taking away the 2011 baseball All Star game.
“Economic boycotts are an inappropriate and historically harmful response to an issue that deserves proper public debate and discussion,” the statement read. And Brewer repeated her statement that any police who engage in racial discrimination would be held accountable.
Sharpton criticized backers of the measure who say it is a matter of states’ rights to go after illegal immigrants because of the failure of the federal government to secure the border. He said that has echoes of the old South.
“It was state law that was always used to undermine the rights of people,” Sharpton said.
“States’ rights rob us of our rights of color,” he said. “States’ rights robbed women.”
Others who spoke at the church expressed their own support.
“We want to send a message to our Latino brothers and sisters: This is not your fight,” said Bishop Alexis Thomas of Pilgrim Rest. “This is our fight.”
“This is not a funeral,” added Rep. Cloves Campbell, D-Phoenix. “This is a fight.”
The Rev. Eric Lee, president of the Los Angeles chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said the fact that polls show perhaps 60 percent of Arizonans support the new law is irrelevant.
“In 1964 and 1965 when we were fighting for civil rights legislation and the voters’ rights, if it were left up to a majority of the population, black folks would still be discriminated against,” he said. “Sometimes the majority is not right.
And Lee said even if Brewer is correct and the legislation is constitutional, that doesn’t end the issue.
“Black folks know that they wrote discrimination and segregation in the Constitution,” Lee said. “It was wrong then, it was wrong now and we should fight it.”