Fear Of A Brown Planet?

brownplanet“Unfortunate” and “chilling?”

How about insulting and xenophobic?

Local advocates may have held back a bit last week when they condemned Republican Albuquerque mayoral candidate Richard “R.J.” Berry and the New Mexico Republican Party for blaming a brutal murder on the city’s existing immigration policies.

Albuquerque police have charged suspected members of a hardcore El Salvadoran crime gang with murdering cook Stephanie Anderson on June 20 as they robbed a crowded Denny’s Restaurant on the city’s West Side.

In the aftermath of the crime, Berry and state Republican Party executive director Ryan Cangliosi blamed the city’s police policies regarding immigrants for the murder and called Albuquerque a “sanctuary city” for illegal immigrants.

Berry and Cangliosi said they were lamenting the fact that since 2007, city policy bars police from questioning a person about his or her immigration status unless the person is already under arrest or the officer feels their immigration status may be relevant to a criminal investigation.

The city adopted the policy in connection with a 2005 civil rights lawsuit brought by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund involving three Del Norte students who were detained at their school until immigration officials could question them.

In the days since the murder, Albuquerque police revealed that they had arrested one of the suspects, Pablo Ortiz, for DUI in 2008. He served time in jail and was then voluntarily deported to El Salvador. Police don’t know how Ortiz got back into the country and came to commit the murder. But city policies on immigration don’t appear to have anything to do with it.

Late last week, a coalition of advocacy groups expressed outrage that Berry and the Republican Party would attempt to use the murder as a pawn in their political chess game.

“Campaigns like this (against immigrants) have had a chilling impact on Hispanic/Latino communities across the country, resulting in increased discrimination, hate crimes, and racial profiling,” Adrian Pedroza, executive director of the Albuquerque Partnership, a Latino-led advocacy-based coalition, told the New Mexico Independent.

“At a time when we should be coming together to mourn the tragic death of a community member, it is unfortunate that there are those who would use this issue to further a political agenda,” Barbara Dua, executive director of the statewide New Mexico Conference of Churches, told NMI. “This is a time for us to unite, not be divided by fear mongering.”

Advocates say what Berry and the Republicans are claiming is unfortunate and chilling.

But let’s also call it what else it is – a xenophobic attempt to insult people’s common sense by confusing the facts and blurring the line between immigrants and the kind of ganged-up criminals who shoot a woman in cold blood.

Using the specter of crime and public safety to elicit knee-jerk reactions during political season is an old trick.

Did any of you fall for it?

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It’s Real

People who use social media to organize often refer to the crucial moment when someone steps out of the blogosphere and converts their online communication into real-life action.

Sadly, accused murderer James Von Brunn did just that Wednesday when he shot and killed African American security guard Stephen P.  Johns at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

In a place meant to honor the millions who died in the Holocaust, Von Brunn set out to make his lifelong vow of hatred for Jews horribly real. After shooting Johns, Von Brunn was shot and wounded by other guards before he could make good on his plans to kill others at the museum.

From his extensive writings on the Internet and from notes later found in his car, Von Brunn’s rampage appears to be linked to President Barack Obama’s appearance last week at the notorious Buchenwald death camp in Germany. In a speech there, Obama and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel denounced so-called Holocaust deniers (like Von Brunn) who say it never happened.

The ugly truth is that the number of threats against Obama have skyrocketed since Americans elected him in November. One noted criminologist even chalked Wednesday’s murder up to what he called “the Obama effect,” which attempts (rather clumsily) to describe the uptick in racial trash-talking since Obama became the country’s first black president.

It’s quite evident that the Internet provides a ready forum and handy organizing tool for the rising number of racist, anti-Semitic haters out there.

I’m not saying people don’t have the right to say what they want on the Internet. I would never say that.

But I do want to express my disgust at those who pooh-pooh the connection between the hateful things people write online and actual events like the murder of Johns – and the possible murder of many others – at the Holocaust Museum.

The groups who track hate online on sites like the one Von Brunn maintained have long warned that events like this were coming.

Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center told the Los Angeles Times that the nonprofit group had tracked a sharp increase in what it considered right-wing hate groups over the last eight years — from 602 to 926.

A “confluence of factors,” Potok told the Times,  appeared to be fueling the growth — including anger about nonwhite immigration, concern over the deteriorating economy, fears of new restrictions on firearms, and the election of the first African American as president.

“We may well be seeing a perfect storm of factors that favor this movement,” Potok said.

Contrast that with those on the right, many of whom simply laughed a few months ago at a Department of Homeland Security report that warned economic and social conditions “presented unique drivers for right-wing radicalization and recruitment.”

Now there’s no excuse – we know it’s real.  So can we please stop pretending that the hate people spew online means nothing?

Advocates With a Pen

RFK_CesarThere’s been so much talk about the decline of the traditional media and concern about what kind of in-depth journalism might rise up to up to take its place.

But I’m more encouraged now about the future of journalism since I’ve seen the ambitious and righteous project called  “Divided Families,” a series of stories by journalism students at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

The series, a melange of photos and text which movingly examined the lives of  families divided by the U.S. – Mexico border, won the prestigious Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award in the college print journalism category. It traces the stories of families who are separated as a result of both legal and illegal immigration and explores the social consequences of public immigration policy.  (To view the full series, go to the above link and click on the PDF file on the right side of the page. )

The Divided Families project was the work of 17 students in the Cronkite School’s In-Depth Reporting class. Students took more than 30 trips to the border, deep into Mexico and to various parts of Arizona to report, record and photograph their stories.

You can read about the other winners, which included The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Charlotte Observer and National Public Radio, here.

The prizes will be awarded today in a ceremony at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

The RFK Journalism Awards program honors outstanding reporting on issues that reflect Robert F. Kennedy’s concerns, including human rights, social justice and the power of individual action in the United States and around the world. Winning pieces examine the causes, conditions and remedies of injustice and analyze relevant public policies and attitudes and private endeavors.

NM Senate this week: The Reckless and The Feckless

lindalopezFirst, the reckless: On Thursday, the NM State Senate, counting on a new housing bubble, passed the Linda Lopez (D-Albuq.) sponsored SunCal TIDD bill.  Now if the measure gets through the House, hundreds of millions of future taxpayer dollars will go to subsidize sprawl on Albuquerque’s Westside and benefit a California land developer.  Like every other state in the nation, New Mexico is facing  massive budget deficits as far as the eye can see, which will probably necessitate future tax increases.  (see NM Independent and Cocoposts)

And then there’s the feckless: Also on Thursday, ten Democrats and joined with all fifteen of the Senate’s Republicans to defeat the Domestic Partners Rights and Responsibilities Act by a 17-25 margin.

Just before the voting closed, Senator Carlos Cisneros (D-Questa) suddenly switched his vote from “yes” to “no”.

Meanwhile, it’s déjà vu all over again in the Senate Rules Committee, which is waging a relentless sitzkrieg on the ethics reform front.  Read about  Wednesday’s in-action and Friday’s. Of course, as was previously reported, the committee took the first two weeks of the session off.  To hear a lecture (NM Senate 101) on why the system just has to work in this cockamamie way, listen to KUNM’s interview with Rules Committee Chair Linda Lopez. (see Another Slow Day for Ethics Bills at State Legislature)

New Mexico is one of only five states in the nation with no caps on campaign contributions whatsoever (Illinois just joined the ranks).  Such a measure would severely limit the huge sums of political money that special interests like SunCal could throw at our state’s politicians.  Apparently there’s no great desire on the part of the NM State Senate leadership to fast track this one.

Playing in Prop. 8

Seems 190 New Mexicans contributed to Proposition 8 — the California ballot measure banning gay marriage. (link) (hat tip to Jim Baca)

Unfortunately, it passed.

Being the geek I am, I decided to pour over the list and see who’s supporting a ban on gay marriage and who’s opposing it. Here are some preliminary numbers.

  • There were 57 financial contributions from New Mexicans and New Mexico businesses in support of Prop. 8 (meaning they support banning gay marriage). Several donors made multiple contributions.
  • There were 131 contributions from New Mexicans (no discernible business listings) in opposition to Prop. 8 (meaning they oppose banning gay marriage). There were little, if any repeat donors.
  • New Mexico supporters of Prop. 8 contributed $147,915 to ban gay marriage in California. The average donation was $2,595.
  • New Mexico opponents of Prop. 8 contributed $34,283 to fight against banning gay marriage. The average donation was $261.70.
There is so much more that can be drawn from this information, but I’ll just start with this macro donor profile.