Monday, January 10, 2011

arizona the mecca for prejudice and bigotry?


Video - Sheriff Clarence Dupnik of Pima AZ calls out rightwing hate.

CNN | In the wake of the shooting of a congresswoman and 19 other people, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik told the news media Saturday that he blamed "the vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from people in the radio business and some people in the TV business."

"The bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous," he said. "And unfortunately, Arizona, I think, has become sort of the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry."

Bingo. Take it from me. I lived in Phoenix in the late 1990s while writing for The Arizona Republic. Dupnik got it exactly right.

Raise your hand if you have had it with the drama capital of America, which seems to spend more time on the front page than the other 49 states combined. Or if you think the Grand Canyon State has become, in recent years, more trouble than it's worth. Or if you feel like saying, to paraphrase what folk singer Phil Ochs said about Mississippi in the 1960s: "Here's to the people you've torn out the heart of. Arizona, find yourself another country to be part of."

The latest heartbreak comes from Saturday's horrific shooting rampage in Tucson. What authorities believe started as the attempted assassination of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords at an outdoor constituent meeting turned into a mass shooting that killed six people and wounded more than a dozen, including Giffords.

The deceased include U.S. District Court Judge John Roll, Gifford's Community Outreach Director Gabriel Zimmerman and 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green of Tucson.

The alleged shooter, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, used a 9mm Glock holding a magazine with more than 30 rounds. A lot more people might have been killed if heroic bystanders had not tackled Loughner to the ground and wrestled the gun away.

The shooting comes in a state that has been malfunctioning for years.

Just ask Arizona's large and embattled Latino population, which has had to fight off everything from attempts to do away with ethnic studies to a notorious immigration law that all but mandates racial profiling by local and state police. The next battle, expected to start in a few weeks, will be trying to stop state lawmakers from seeking to undermine the 14th Amendment by denying birth certificates to the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants.

In 1990, state lawmakers stubbornly refused to honor Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. with a state holiday. That cost the state an estimated $100 million when the NFL pulled the Super Bowl from the Phoenix area in protest. Two years later, Arizona voters finally gave in and approved a ballot initiative creating a holiday.

Before that, in 1988, Arizona became one of the first states in the country to declare English its "official language" when voters approved Proposition 106, an unnecessary and divisive ballot initiative that required all state and local government business be conducted in English. Ten years later, the Arizona Supreme Court struck down the law as unconstitutional.

Throughout the 20th century, Arizona was a Southwestern bastion of unbridled racism and discrimination. Restaurants had signs in windows that read: "No dogs or Mexicans allowed."

Now, Dupnik and other Arizonans warn that sort of intolerance and meanness is back with a vengeance. This is where Arizona is headed now that it has removed the stigma from extremism and sanctioned narrow-mindedness.