In Cambridge, Mass., a prominent African American professor gets arrested in his own home, and many conservatives – of all colors – are befuddled because they can’t seem to comprehend the outrage. More outraged is the fanatical right wing, which bristles at the thought that the president actually suggested that racism might still exist in the United States.
Ironically, in Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio is proof that racial profiling still takes place and that President Obama himself officially sanctions it. After the spectacle of the Sonia Sotomayor hearings in which southern senators questioned her integrity, we again have been treated to national theater where persons of color are supposed to apologize to unrepentant bigots.
Leading this charge are wealthy talk show hosts and wealthy talking heads that have little in common with the listeners that they herd around daily. They are the same ones that hold sacrosanct the Second Amendment and the idea that one’s home is one’s castle and that the
Constitution permits homeowners to defend themselves and their home with lethal force, against anyone and everyone.
In regards to the particulars involving Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates and Sergeant James M. Crowley of the Cambridge Police Department, it is true that no one should have rendered judgment before all the facts were known. However, because the president commented on the situation, this incident has helped to bring the topic of racial profiling to the fore.
Seemingly most conservative whites speak [on talk radio and the internet]with venom in regards to this topic, not simply denying the phenomenon, but also condoning it or redefining it when impossible to deny. Minimally, it has to be acknowledged that racial profiling has always been a problem in this country. Driving while black or brown is one thing, but to be arrested in one’s home – one’s sanctuary – touches a sensitive chord.
It has been surprising to hear the president speak up on the topic. On virtually everything else – such as illegal spying, transparent government, illegal wars, signing statements, etc, he has actually continued the Bush polices of the past eight years. However, in regards to racial profiling, he has actually weighed in, albeit clumsily. However, it has not been improper for him to point out that in general, anyone getting arrested in their own home, after identifying him or herself, is disturbing. Talking back or defending one’s dignity (as opposed to meekly complying) is not a punishable offense.
What is more disturbing about this topic is that the president has actually been complicit in greatly expanding programs that legalize and authorize racial profiling and other abuses nationwide. The primary program is the Bush-era federal 287G program that authorizes local police departments to carry out immigration enforcement duties.
Arizona’s Sheriff Arpaio – who believes it is an honor to be associated with the KKK (Nov 2007, on CNN’s Lou Dobb’s Program) and who actually pals around with racial extremists – is the face of this program. His well-publicized dragnet raids and checkpoints in Mexican/Latino neighborhoods have garnered national attention. His antics and practices have also been regularly denounced by Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon and by human rights organizations nationwide. The 287G program itself has been denounced by many of the nation’s police chiefs as an impediment to good law enforcement. Nationwide, this is but one program that permits practices unheard of anywhere else in the world; such as mass show trials (Operation Streamline in Tucson, Arizona) that last but one hour, trials in which migrants are charged with smuggling themselves and detention centers for children, run by private corporations (Corrections Corporation of America).
It is truly a mystery as to why the president has not denounced these Bush-era programs or Arpaio – the Bull Conner of this generation. While it is true that Arpaio is under federal investigation, it is also true that the Obama administration has greatly expanded, rather than suspended the 287G program nationwide.
This nation’s dirty little secret is that racial profiling has always been a major component of federal immigration enforcement; Cesar Chavez used to refer to the migra as the “Gestapo of the Mexican people.” It is only logical that as the 287G program expands to local jurisdictions nationwide, so too will racial profiling expand.
It is uncertain how the Gates-Crowley-Obama drama will end. Yet, systemic racial profiling policies – authorized by the president himself – can end, not by sharing a beer on the White House lawn, but through an immediate executive order. An end to apartheid practices can’t wait for the much-promised comprehensive immigration reform.
Roberto Rodriguez, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona can be
reached at: XColumn@gmail.com.