Saturday, May 22, 2010

Ending criminalization of people of color must be priority

Three separate times, tears welled up as, on the corner of Swan and Golf Links outside the Border Patrol headquarters in Tucson, a Wackenhut bus full of undocumented detainees drove by.  The protest on this corner corresponded to the lockdown of 6 people in the BP office to protest militarization of the border.

The protesters who locked down said that as they were being booked, they saw the people standing, waiting in the "cage" to be processed and then sent off to a detention center or possibly deported, transported on these very buses we saw.  A powerful moment was after the protesters had been released and had joined us on the corner, when a bus drove by and we all raised our fists, gave peace signs, and/or waved, knowing to some extent the fate of the prisoners, and wanting to show our solidarity, though limited by gestures.

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants, like those whose faces I could barely see, are held in detention centers and jails.  SB 1070 has not yet gone into effect.  This has been going on for so long and will only continue to do so as long as activists only insist upon ending racial profiling and stopping SB 1070 or even all racist bills/laws if it stops before calling for an end to the border and criminalization of people of color.  There are so many undocumented immigrants who are living in our cities whose voices are overpowered by those who want to maintain the status quo.  There are so many indigenous people near the border or even throughout this state whose voices are not heard, who are also impacted by the border and will also be impacted by SB1070 and so much more.

While racial profiling seems to be discussed in the media and by certain so-called spokespeople as a problem because it catches innocent/"legal" people up in it, it will be a problem because not only will SB 1070 make it easier and more justifiable to catch undocumented immigrants, it also allows the police to do what they have been doing for so long: treating all people of color as criminals.  What tends to be overlooked is that people of color have been criminalized, in different ways in different contexts.  The criminalization, whose enforcement is steadily increasing in the case of migrants, is used to paint people as law-breakers and justify their imprisonment and/or disenfranchisement (and here I don't just mean voting, but also any sort of means to make changes in their lives).  Not only are certain acts of people of color criminalized or treated as worse crimes (such as the treatment of crack users vs. cocaine users), but the police are given a special position to deem people criminals even if they haven't done anything wrong.

Whiteness has made room for certain people of color to be model citizens (even cops or border patrol agents) to blur the line, but it is clear where the line is.  If we don't question this criminalization, there will always be hundreds of thousands of people of color imprisoned in this country, or in constant fear of being ripped from their everyday life, if not even murdered by the state on occasion (even once is far too often).  Racial profiling is part of this racial criminalization, and to be clear, perhaps we should use the latter term, unless we buy into this idea that those who have been convicted of crimes or those who we know have crossed the border illegally are being justifyably punished.  When you hear or read the arguments for deporting or imprisoning undocumented immigrants it all comes down to the law for them, even though their racism often comes clearly through.  There's no effort to examine the purpose of the (immigration) law among those who seem to have convinced themselves that race plays no part. 

This criminalization not only puts people in jail but attempts to make it more justifiable to treat people of color inhumanely.  The press release for yesterday's Border Patrol protest states, "Indigenous people along the border have been forced by border patrol to carry and provide proof of tribal membership when moving across their traditional lands that have been bisected by this imposed border; a border that has been extremely damaging to the cultural and spiritual practices of these communities. Many people are not able to journey to sacred sites because the communities where people live are on the opposite side of the border from these sites. Since the creation of the current U.S./Mexico border, 45 O’odham villages on or near the border have been completely depopulated."  In addition, they state, "The impacts of border militarization are constantly made invisible in the media, the popular culture of this country and even the mainstream immigrants rights movement which has often pushed for 'reform' that means further militarization of the border, which means increased suffering for our communities."

It is important that we carefully remain critical of the elements of any social movement that are are more embraced by the mainstream media and politicians.  The folks who did this protest did it in such a way as to risk federal charges to get national media attention, which they hardly got.  In the meantime, messages about Comprehensive Immigration Reform and against racial profiling are more successful even when no arrests are involved.  Of course calls to end criminalization of people and to stop border militarization are going to be marginalized!  This is why they must at least be demarginalized within the social justice movements. 

A friend of mine told me that her mother cried when listening to Al Sharpton speak against SB1070.  I wonder if what he's been saying in the media is different from what he said at the public event (see First They Came for the "Illegals" but I only care about Racial Profiling).   Either way, I will remain weary of anyone marginalizes undocumented immigrants to oppose laws that target them.

See also No Borders or Prison Walls for a longer essay on some of these issues.

1 comment:

  1. been on both sides...doesnt matter what side it still hurts to know that this too could happen to you or someone you know all because of the color of your skin and in this instance the color being brown....many years ago during the civil war it was due to slavery...and now what? this needs to stop & laws changed for the better.