Phoenix’s Very Misguided Protest

by May 05, 2010

by Chris Deaton

We live in a soundbite culture.  We take 10 seconds from the top of a 10-hour debate and use them as the foundation of our understanding because we haven’t the time, care, or some combination thereof to dig further.

The superficial conclusions we draw often favor sensitivity.  If the matter is controversial, we must choose the most seemingly inoffensive alternative to suppress our greatest fear: the bad within us.  It’s a nonpartisan feeling, for to Seth MacFarlane, a liberal and a comedic visionary, and Connie Mack, a conservative Congressman, that bad is our inner Nazi, our inner Gestapo.

S.B. 1070 in 10 seconds: … reasonable suspicion exists that … person is an alien who is unlawfully present … reasonable attempt … to determine the immigration status …

No, Suns President Robert Sarver didn’t go so far as to suggest governmental thuggery of foreign regimes past, but his fear was palpable: “… the result of passing the law is that our basic principles of equal rights and protection under the law are being called into question.”  Steve Nash was equally cautionary and temperate: “I think the law is very misguided … I think the law obviously can target opportunities for racial profiling.  Things we don’t want to see and don’t need to see in 2010.”

They had to speak out on this.  They had to assure their supporters, Arizonans, Americans, Earthlings — most importantly, themselves — that Governor Jan Brewer and the legislature didn’t reflect the views of the Phoenix Suns.  They had to disassociate themselves from a surely existent stigma that “people around the world and around the country look at our state as less than equal, less than fair,” Nash said.

Trail Blazers Suns BasketballSo all further apologetic words from players and team officials were superfluous when a mere moniker, Los Suns, a bit of Spanglish one step above “mano y mano”, would succinctly strike the right tone.  These uniforms, once reserved for designated noches Latinas to recognize the Hispanic public in select media markets, would serve as a political battle cry, yes, but also “let the Latin community know we’re behind them 100 percent,” said Amar’e Stoudemire.

Solidarity.  Sarver and Nash; GM Steve Kerr, who said on behalf of his organization, “… we don’t agree with the law itself;” even Billy Hunter, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, whose comments were among the most forthright of any League personnel: “Any attempt to encourage, tolerate or legalize racial profiling is offensive and incompatible with basic notions of fairness and equal protection;” all of them have entrenched themselves as ‘of the people’.

And they’re misguided.  Only 36 percent of Americans agree with them, and this minority retains no moral absolutism — the law is at least debatable, and the majority of the public aren’t xenophobic kooks.

Go beyond the 10 seconds.  Fill in the ellipses.  It’s the difference between, … reasonable suspicion that … person is an alien who is unlawfully present … reasonable attempt … to determine the immigration status … — the disturbing essence of a would-be police-state decree — and, For any legitimate contact made by an official where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States, a reasonable attempt shall be made, when practicable, to determine the immigration status of the person

The latter is restrictive; ‘legitimate contact’ in this context is compelled by the possibility of a legal infraction, and no legal document applicable in the state of Arizona even implies that the possession of a particular skin color is a legal infraction.  From the same chunk of language italicized above, Sec. 2, item B: A law enforcement official … may not solely consider race, color or national origin in implementing the requirements of this subsection except to the extent permitted by the United States or Arizona Constitution.  In other words, the question of immigration status is step B or beyond of any encounter between a person and law enforcement.

Does that mean officers will find ways to manufacture step As?  That depends upon the number of overzealous Arizona patrolmen willing to pull someone over for doing 58 in a 55, which, by most any reasonable guess, is small — the outliers of the equation as likely to affect Christophers as they are Cristobals.

But we fear the worst, and that’s why the attention-grabbing 10 seconds will always elicit more emotion and response than the remaining nine hours, 59 minutes and 50 seconds of the debate.  That’s why Sarver, Nash, et al had to go out of their ways to voice their concerns, because given America’s checkered history with race relations and our modern, national paranoia to fervently guard against perceptions of marginalizing others, we have to vocalize or make recordable our reassurances that everyone in this country plays on the same team.

I wish it didn’t have to be like that; I wish that our default position was an assumption of equality that didn’t beckon the show of Los Suns.  I’m still wishing for that one day when we realize the presence of many ethnicities, many cultures, but one race — the human race — and a desperate but limited law, intended for the curbing of illegal immigration and not the perversion of persecuting Latinos, wouldn’t call the unity into question.