No Sanctuary from the Sheriff

April 2018

Sheriff Brown and the California State Sheriffs’ Association appear to be falling in line with Trump’s reductionist thinking on U.S. citizenship.

Unfortunately, this only serves to aggravate the problem of white nationalist violence toward non-Christians and people of color in America.

White supremacists have terrorized communities from Berkley, California to Charlottesville, Virginia, as Americans have looked on in dismay.  A particularly vicious attack occurred at the University of Virginia 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 in Charlottesville.

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.

The next, day 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 and many journalists reported heavily armed white nationalists attacking counter-demonstrators while  police watched silently.

The violence culminated with  the murder of Heather Heyer, a labor organizer killed when a car driven by a white supremacist from Vanguard America barreled into protesters of the “Unite the Right” rally.

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 unexpected backing by police unions in Texas and Florida.

In July, when President Trump made a speech to the Long Island police department, he encouraged officers to mishandle alleged Latino gang members amid laughter and applause.

What‘s worse, he also pardoned the infamous Sheriff Arpaio whose practice of racially profiling Latino citizens led to a Department of Justice investigation.  The court enjoined Arpaio from further racial profiling but the good sheriff decided to flout the DOJ’s ruling.    He subsequently needed a presidential pardon in order to avoid serving time for contempt of court.  Trumps decision to forgive the xenophobic law officer is in defiance the U.S. Constitution and sends a clear signal to white nationalists everywhere that racism is condoned and rewarded by the President.

In the troubled times since Trump assumed Presidency, it would seem that police public relations are dipping to a nadir.

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.

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 served to stoke the flames of white nationalism.

As a result, state, county, and municipal authorities have struggled to maintain cohesion in the face of the Trump administration’s destabilizing policies. Shortly after he became President, municipalities across the nation declared themselves Sanctuary Cities in response to his orders for accelerated ICE raids on undocumented workers.

Here in California, Senate Bill 54  – also known as the California Values Act (or sometimes the Sanctuary State Bill) – has  countermanded some of the broad powers of federal authorities and returned a modicum of sanity to our state’s immigration laws. Unfortunately, it is now under attack by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

California’s State Sanctuary law 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 agencies opposed this law over concerns about the threatened loss of federal funding from the Trump administration.

One of them has been the California State Sheriffs’ Association headed up by Sheriff Bill Brown.  As president of the Sheriffs’ Association, Brown has contended that, “this bill, in its current form, provides sanctuary for criminals.

Brown has conflated immigrant status with criminality in order to divert attention from the numbers arrested for non-violent drug and alcohol use. It is worth remembering that a few years ago, he similarly opposed proposition 47, a measure to reduce prison overcrowding by freeing non-violent drug offenders. While Brown insisted on  the problem of “prison overcrowding”, the fact remains that the vast majority were incarcerated 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 in Santa Maria even as cost over-runs and community opposition ran high against it.

It would seem that Sheriff Brown is often on the wrong side of public opinion.

Generalizing immigrants with criminality employs the kind of reductionist thinking that is in keeping with Trump’s own irresponsible racist rhetoric. Such “thinking” serves to stereotype people according to their race, class, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability, or religion, thereby dehumanizing the people so labeled and needlessly dividing our communities.

Unfortunately, as events in Virginia, Arizona, and Long Island seem to demonstrate, many in law enforcement would appear to be falling in line with Trump’s bellicose bigotry.

But Sheriff Brown holds a public office that requires him to be responsible to his diverse constituency.

With his re-election looming, he would do well to remember his oath of office and respect Santa Barbara’s inherent multiculturalism.