The Trump administration’s discriminatory citizenship policies have served to fuel white nationalism across the United States.
From California to Virginia, white supremacists have terrorized communities as Americans have watched in dismay. The most recent attack occurred at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville when hundreds of Klansmen and Neo-Nazis chanting “Jew will not replace us” and “White lives matter” beat up a small group of student activists ahead of a planned “Unite the Right” rally.
The torch-wielding white nationalists attacked students en route to St. Paul’s Memorial church where civil rights leaders Dr. Cornell West and Traci Blackmon were addressing an interfaith community of Black Lives Matter activists. In an interview for Democracy Now, Dr. West remarked on the notable lack of police protection for students and clergy that evening.
Many journalists reported heavily armed white nationalists attacking counter-demonstrators while police stood looking on. When a Jewish synagogue was menaced by Neo-Nazis, it was similarly denied police protection. Black Lives Matter activist De’Andre Harris was beaten unconscious by white supremacists around the corner from the Charlottesville police station.
The violence culminated with the murder of Heather Heyer, a labor organizer killed when a car driven by a white supremacist from Vanguard America smashed into protesters of the “Unite the Right” rally.
Largely in response to the protests of anti-DAPL and Black Lives Matter activists, conservative politicos in several states have proposed laws to protect drivers who run down protesters. These “laws” have received backing by police unions in Texas and Florida.
It would seem that police public relations are dipping to a nadir.
Last month, when Donald Trump made a speech to the Long Island police department, he encouraged officers to mishandle alleged Latino gang members amid laughter and applause.
In the troubled months since Trump assumed Presidency, the country has been thrown into turmoil as his administration seeks to effectively redefine U.S. citizenship. His call for a Muslim ban against people of the Islamic faith along with accelerated deportation raids for undocumented workers discriminates against already vulnerable populations.
It is arguable that such policies have made our country any safer.
More recently, Trump has said he will cut immigration in half by restricting future immigrants to those of English speaking ability, a measure that flies in the face of the linguistic diversity that is America’s lived historical experience. Needless to say, Trump’s efforts to demarcate U.S. citizenship along religious and ethnic lines have stoked the flames of xenophobic white nationalism.
As a result, state, county, and municipal authorities have struggled to maintain cohesion in the face of the Trump administration’s dangerous instability. Shortly after he became President, municipalities across the nation declared themselves sanctuary cities in response to his orders for accelerated ICE raids on undocumented immigrants.
Here in California, Senate Bill 54 — also known as the California Sanctuary State Bill — seeks to countermand some of the broad powers of federal authorities and return a modicum of sanity to our state’s immigration policies.
As such, it prevents state law enforcement agencies from divulging the immigration status of the incarcerated to ICE agents. It also protects immigrants’ identities in public schools, medical clinics, and courthouses.
However, many police departments have opposed SB 54 over concerns about the threatened loss of federal funding from the Trump administration.
One of them is Sheriff Bill Brown. As president of the California State Sheriffs’ Association, Brown is strongly opposed to California’s sanctuary state law. He claims that, “this bill, in its current form, provides sanctuary for criminals.” He stresses that SB 54 will “shield criminals and put hardworking people in harm’s way.”
A couple of years ago, he similarly opposed proposition 47, a measure to reduce prison overcrowding by freeing people held for low-level crimes and non-violent drug offenses. Most were imprisoned simply because they could not afford to post bail.
Despite Brown’s stance against Proposition 47, it passed with overwhelming support from the people of the state of California.
Prior to that, Sheriff Brown used the same tactic in order to push for the construction of a new jail even as cost over-runs and community opposition ran high against it.
More recently, he has conflated immigrant status with criminality in order to divert attention from the numbers arrested for non-violent drug and alcohol use. Though he alleges the legislation will grant “criminals sanctuary,” SB 54 attempts to redress some of the excesses of the failed drug war by preventing the automatic deportation of immigrants arrested for substance abuse problems.
It seems that Sheriff Brown is often on the wrong side of public opinion.
In generalizing immigrants with criminality, he employs the kind of reductionist thinking that is in keeping with Trump’s own bellicose bigotry. Stereotyping Americans according to their race, class, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability or religion dehumanizes the people so labeled and needlessly divides our communities.
Unfortunately, as recent events in Virginia and Long Island reveal, it seems that many in law enforcement would appear to be falling in line with Trump’s brand of irresponsible racist rhetoric. Motivated by fear, hate and ignorance, such reductive reasoning imposes simplistic categories of “otherness” on a pluralistic people and further enflames white supremacist sentiments.
But Sheriff Brown holds a public office that requires him to be responsible to his diverse constituency. With his re-election looming, he should remember his oath of office and respect Santa Barbara’s inherent multiculturalism. Support for California’s State Sanctuary law is a step toward alleviating some of the dangerous divisiveness espoused by the Trump administration.
Kathy Swift is a resident of Ventura.