By Tammy Johnson
Los Angeles City Councilman Martin Ludlow’s copy of Black Voices, the unsparing photo-history of lynching, sits on his coffee table, where visitors and his children will always be exposed to this “chilling reminder of the history of this nation.”
Ludlow brought this up in front of a diverse audience of immigrants and African Americans at a Sept. 13 event held in L.A.’s First AME Renaissance Center. The councilman was one of 14 other community speakers who reflected on the impact of the domestic war on terrorism and sought to “connect the dots” of racial stereotyping, violence, and discrimination across different communities in post-9/11 America.
“It’s an amazingly daunting reality that we’re all facing in this country,” Ludlow said. “This event raised my awareness of an opportunity for public officials to go on the record as opposing this war on immigrants.”
Organized by the Oakland-based Applied Research Center, the “Public’s Truth” was one of half a dozen forums being held around the country to spotlight the increasingly widening effects of racism, scapegoating, and “homeland security” policies on people who have been variously beaten by skinheads, fired from their jobs, jailed for immigration problems, and deported in rising numbers.
“While there has been attention on the need to increase national security, what hasn’t been investigated is how these policies have extracted a human cost on people’s lives,” said Gina Acebo, director of the center’s Justice is the Unifying Message project.
Policies such as the PATRIOT Act have been billed as security measures that target only suspected terrorists from Arab and Muslim countries, but in reality, they have amounted to sweeping changes that have ensnared all immigrants, Acebo said. African Americans are also affected, she pointed out, by the growth in law enforcement and prisons, along with diminished attention to inequity in public programs such as education, housing, and welfare.
Robin Toma of the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission cited L.A.’s 1200% spike in hate crimes and incidents of discrimination as evidence of the urgent need for local communities to broadcast the issue of race in the fall-out from 9/11.
“What we were seeing with hate crimes was just the tip of the iceberg,” Toma added. “We clearly need to change the culture so that concern for safety doesn’t turn into stereotyping.”
While Ludlow reminded the audience that L.A.’s black Crenshaw district used to be a Japanese community before World War II internment, another speaker, Rev. Arthur Takemoto, described what it was like to live through that period as a high school student. Racial profiling back then, said Takemoto, meant terrified Asian immigrants wearing badges identifying themselves as “Chinese American” or “Korean American” to avoid internment.
Rasheed Alam, a 19-year-old Lebanese American student, described being beaten in February 2003 by a large group of white men with baseball bats, who called him “sand nigger” as they stomped on his face. The attackers were not charged with a hate crime.
Another speaker, Adrian Sanchez, a 34-year-old Mexican American, has recently settled his case to remain in the country after being detained and under threat of deportation because of a minor conviction for having once sold $20 worth of marijuana in 1981.
“I lived in fear for two years that I would be deported and taken from my children,” Sanchez said. “It’s not just me, there’s thousands of people going through the same thing and worse. What’s even scarier is people are standing by and letting this happen.”
Sanchez’s story illustrated how the war on drugs has crossed race lines and merged with immigration enforcement policies, similar to how racial bias in drug sentencing laws has resulted in disproportionate imprisonment of African Americans.
Other community leaders at the event pointed out the necessity of making linkages across racial and ethnic communities that have long been targeted by racism and exploited for cheap labor. “It’s not 9/11 when discrimination against the poor, immigrants, and other people of color started. It’s been since the very beginning,” said Maria Elena Durazo of Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 11. She, along with several other speakers, drew connections to the Civil Rights Movement in the current struggle to win human rights over “war, poverty, and racism.”
As Black Muslim leader Imam Saadiq Saafir of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California put it: “Before 9/11, I had been used to being scrutinized, profiled. I had been used to being guilty before proven innocent. Now I have a double whammy-An African American in Muslim clothes.
“We are all vulnerable.”
ColorLines is a national magazine of race politics, culture, and action. Visit us online at www.colorlines.com.