What is happening right now in Arizona is a classic study of what happens when people are afraid. The Arizona law passed this last week clearly targets race – it is a law that puts anyone who is or looks Hispanic on the radar of every law enforcement agency and vigilante in the State. People who deny that it will lead to racial profiling are either being disingenuous or incredibly naive. Over the years of practicing law I can tell you race is the first variable every police officer notices when determining probable cause – whether it is a driving violation, shoplifting, or as simple as standing on a street corner. If an officer is looking for an “illegal alien” and sees two people, one with blonde hair and blue eyes and another who is Hispanic, who are both dressed identically and act identically – which one is going to get questioned? We all know. It is the same reason why so many African-American men who are not guilty of any crime are identified as a perpetrator, arrested (and more often than any other race), wrongfully convicted. This law is all about fear and race. It’s no coincidence that the Arizona Legislature almost passed another law the same week requiring President Obama to produce his birth certificate (again) to be on the next election ballot.
Why would Arizona react so extremely to the issue of immigration when adjacent states such as New Mexico, does not? The answer is obvious to me, having grown up in one of the most segregated cities in the North. When neighborhoods began to integrate there was always more violence than in neighborhoods that had already integrated. That was because people fear change. Arizona is rapidly becoming a State with a majority minority population, i.e. most people living there will soon be minority status. Arizonans are simply saying the same things I would hear being said to African-Americans by the racists in my neighborhood: “we don’t like your kind here.”
Is it really so hard to understand why the Tea Baggers are overwhelmingly white and older? I feel sorry for them because they are frightened people, but they really have nothing to fear. Once you live with and become friends with people of a different race or culture, they become human beings and not an abstract fear.