Hate Groups and Prison Profiteers Wrote Arizona's Juan Crow Law

Roughly 70 percent of America's prisoners are black and brown because the laws target communities of color. For-profit prison owners know this more than anyone.
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Now, I suppose it is conceivable that white supremacists and the private prison industry could join forces in support of a good piece of legislation. After all, anything is possible.

But it sure isn't likely.

This is the situation we are seeing in Arizona with the passage of S.B. 1070, the anti-immigrant law that allows police to stop and arrest suspected undocumented aliens. Essentially, this law makes it a crime under state law to be in the U.S. illegally. The law allows police to stop anyone with a "reasonable suspicion" of being undocumented, and demand proof of citizenship. Those who cannot produce the documentation face arrest, a $2,500 fine, and 6 months in jail.

One must ask, where do they find these laws? Better yet, where do they find the people to write such laws? In searching for an answer, I turn to a colleague, the late Al Lewis. Yes, Grandpa from the Munsters. I knew him as a political activist and a radio show host when I worked at Pacifica Radio station WBAI ten years ago as a producer for Democracy Now! Al defined a law as "that which is bought and paid for." It was one of the most simple, yet profound statements I had heard. And it definitely applies to Arizona's S.B. 1070.

It is now no secret that two top level staffers in Gov. Jan Brewer's administration -- Paul Senseman and Chuck Coughlin -- have financial ties to the private prison industry, and stand to benefit personally from S.B. 1070. After all, private prisons lock up the immigration detainees in that state -- and they would like to run all of the prisons in Arizona, including death row -- so the new law is good for business. Senseman, the governor's deputy chief of staff, is a former lobbyist for Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA. And his wife presently is a lobbyist for the company. Meanwhile, Chuck Coughlin is one of the governor's policy advisers and her campaign chairman. Coughlin's firm, HighGround Public Affairs Consultants, currently lobbies for CCA. CCA and rival prison company Geo Group are members of the American Legislative Exchange Council, where they ensured passage of the insidious bill.

But it gets better, or worse depending on your point of view. State Senator Russell Pearce, who introduced S.B. 1070, has extensive financial ties to the private prison industry. He also has friendships with neo-Nazis such as J.T. Ready of the National Alliance, who calls Jews parasites, and hunts and kidnaps people on the border with Mexico. Ready once said "The truth is that negroids screw monkeys and rape babies in afreaka [sic]. Then stupid white man who licks kosher jew rear lets negroids in." And he once told a neo-Nazi rally that "This is a white, European homeland. That's how it should be preserved if we want to keep it clean, safe, and pure."

Senator Pearce has built his career on the backs of the Latino immigrant communities he has so fervently scapegoated. He has supported Nuremberg-style legislation that would prohibit hospitals from issuing birth certificates to children born of undocumented immigrants, and a law that would not allow people to marry without providing proof of U.S. citizenship and social security numbers. That would make it illegal for citizens to marry non-citizens! Pearce wants to eliminate the Fourteenth Amendment. And he supported the bill that has eliminated ethnic studies in Arizona public schools and colleges and universities.

And Senator Pearce has ties to the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). S.B. 1070 was written by Kris Kobach, a former Bush administration lawyer who now works for FAIR's legal arm. The organization has been designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group. FAIR was founded by the nativist trailblazer John Tanton, who warned of the dangers of the "Latin onslaught" in America, and declared "for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that." And the group received $1.2 million from the Pioneer Fund, a racist eugenics foundation that funds studies linking race, genetics and intelligence.

For all of you conspiracy theorists out there, this is raw meat to be sure. But there's nothing theoretical about this conspiratorial scenario. Klannish hate groups and prison companies worked together to pass an atrocious, twisted and unconstitutional law. The former hates Latinos and thinks they are inferior, and would love nothing more than to throw them all behind bars for good. Meanwhile, the latter wants to profit from locking up as many immigrant detainees as possible. Just to top it off, both groups collaborated with their tools in the Arizona legislature and that horrid governor's office to make it all happen. This is Juan Crow in action. And sadly, it smells all too much like American history.

In fact, this reminds me of the days of Jim Crow, after slavery, when segregationist state and local governments enacted laws to maintain blacks in a state of virtual bondage. Laws targeted African-Americans specifically by going after offenses for which freedmen were presumed more likely to be charged, such as petty theft, vagrancy, burglary and bigamy. Under the convict lease system, an overwhelmingly black prison population provided free labor to the plantations, railroads and mining companies. "These companies assume charge of the convicts, work them as cheap labor and pay the states a handsome revenue for their labor.... The details of vice, cruelty and death thus fostered by the states whose treasuries are enriched thereby, equals anything from Siberia," said Frederick Douglass. "Every Negro so sentenced not only means able-bodied men to swell the state's number of slaves, but every Negro so convicted is thereby disfranchised." Of course, the ideological justification for the Jim Crow legal regime was that black people were inferior, and posed a racial, sexual, criminal, political and economic threat to whites.

And today, there is profit in prisons, with whole industries that make their bread and butter over the warehousing of warm bodies -including some of the prisons themselves. Roughly 70 percent of America's prisoners are black and brown because laws target communities of color. Yet, America's legal profession is among the nation's least diverse: Over 90 percent of the judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys are white. And law enforcement wages a racially-motivated war on drugs in poor black and Latino neighborhoods, with a financial incentive to maximize the arrests and convictions they win.

When racial scapegoats are conjured up--whether the black "crack babies" and "welfare queens" of the 1980s, or the Mexican "illegal aliens" and "anchor babies" of today--laws are created to legitimize the crimes that the state is about to commit against these groups, ostensibly in the name of the public good, but really for private profit. Sadly, in the land of the jobless and the hopeless, boogeymen are in great demand these days. And in Arizona, a group of greedy, unscrupulous folks got together with professional racists to criminalize the Latino community and make a buck at the same time.

David A. Love is the Executive Editor of BlackCommentator.com, and a contributor to The Progressive Media Project and theGrio. He is based in Philadelphia, and is a graduate of Harvard College and the University of Pennsylvania Law School. His blog is davidalove.com.

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