You’ve been there. Party conversation is bubbling along. Someone makes a wonderful joke about a recent film or a political scandal, and the assembled group bursts into laughter. The air seems filled with a warm feeling of shared values and perceptions. Then somebody makes a racist remark. To that person, the comment was a smart joke made on the presumption that there were some shared values in the room because of something that preceded it. But in fact, the comment is just a shot at a group of people whose lives are a much bigger struggle day to day than those of the assembled wine-invigorated group.
When various California organizations started talking about boycotting Arizona because of its new “Show us your papers” law, there were many who wondered if California was in any position to do that. Our state simultaneously benefits from the hiring of workers who have recently arrived here and pursues law enforcement meant to stop exploitation of those workers that often leads to the revelation that those same workers have immigration problems.
There really isn’t an issue in the truest sense about what Arizona is pursuing right now. They have decided to act assertively where they felt assertive action was lacking. Their reasoning amounts to this: If you look like the problem we’re having in our state, we will insist that you prove you’re not part of our problem.
Let’s look quickly at some parallels. Suppose a grocery store chain is having some serious shoplifting problems. And their surveillance video establishes that in repeat instances female shoplifters are disguising themselves as pregnant women as a means of boosting free groceries. Therefore, said grocery store chain security personnel feel justified in approaching all pregnant women and insisting that they prove they are really pregnant. Repugnant, ugly, and not worth the bad PR it would generate. But… I’m arguing that it emulates Arizona’s model.
Example Two: In the last hour, there’s been a liquor store robbery and shooting where the suspects were clearly identified as African-American, driving a certain year and model of vehicle. The police pull over every car in the vicinity answering to that description. The activity is understandably insulting to many who are stopped. The argument from law enforcement: What would you have us do instead?
In the first case, the actions are meant to keep people from stealing a canned ham or a box of Triscuits. In the second, the police are looking for individuals who have just demonstrated they might kill for even small amounts of cash. Does the end goal justify the means?
Maybe that takes us to asking exactly what it is we want in terms of dealing with people entering America “illegally.” The weight of our history causes us to agree that immigration is a good thing that built this country and made it what it is. But many now seem to be saying, “Please play by our rules.” If we don’t chastise Arizona for its new state senate bill, are we voting “Yes” on an emerging national referendum that illegal immigration is so serious a problem that we must make this a different America in order to solve it? Arizona seems to think so.
Last week Lakers coach Phil Jackson chomped on some bait in an interview and for reasons I’m guessing even he doesn’t understand weighed-in on Arizona’s new law. I can forgive Jackson for being tired at a busy time in the playoff season, but like the mistaken party guest he may have wrongly presumed some shared values in the room. In this case, the room was a TV broadcast which means the room was the world. Jackson, who by way of his Zen approaches to the game and other involvements has showed lefty leanings in the past, indicated he had no problem with Arizona’s controversial state Senate Bill 1070. “Am I crazy, or am I the only one that heard [the legislature] say ‘we just took the United States immigration law and adapted it to our state,’” Jackson said.
Jackson’s comment precipitated protests, although I’m not sure the protestors fully fathomed the irony of that comment coming from a millionaire sports figure who works in an industry that forgives drug charges, rape charges, and players pummeling fans in the seats so that it can protect valuable team talent. Additionally basketball benefits from players imported from all over the world; athletes that enter America with an ease only available to gifted sports figures who will perform for huge amounts of money even before they’ve mastered enough English to do the post-game interview.
Phil may have perceived that he was working a friendly room and that he could say what he wanted. But I’m more interested in the event of Jackson revealing that he has, if you will, his own private Arizona. Maybe I do, too. This column has argued more than once that some system of ID cards for homeless people might go a long way in directing that constituency toward services and possibly a brighter tomorrow. Is that my private Arizona? The difference might be that I don’t intend for homeless persons to be sent back anywhere. Although I can imagine someone catching me in my usual Saturday morning sweats and bad t-shirt combo, unshaven and pre-shower… and asking to see my homeless ID. Of course, I would never get that shakedown if I was easily recognizable as a millionaire basketball player. One who can pretty much tell any sort of joke he wants, because the room is his.
Mirror Contributing Writeropinion@smmirror.com