The first week of the Hazleton trial is over. After observing two of the first three days and trekking nearly 500 miles up and down I-81 between Harrisburg and Scranton, some things come to mind about what’s going on.
Taking them at their word: They embrace immigrants. It’s easy to be cynical about our public officials and their motivations. Most of us around here have certainly been among the cynics about Hazleton’s actions, believing that it was motivated by a) xenophobia and racism and b) election year politics.
But let’s assume for a moment that the comments made by Mayor Barletta are genuine and that he and his supporters embrace immigrants and Latinos in their city. If that’s the case, then they were naïve about the impact of the ordinance and out of touch with the community. They failed to recognize the negative impact this would have on the entire Latino community, and that’s not how effective community leaders operate.
The antithesis of Hazleton is Norristown, which considered a similar ordinance but decided against it and in favor of working with their new neighbors. Council President Bill Procyson told the Times Herald, “The Mexican community is becoming integral to Norristown, and we’d like to see what we can do to (better) integrate them.”
Latinos: One big family. Dr. Lopez testified on Monday about the dynamics of the Latino community and how an attack on some Latinos is viewed as an attack on all Latinos. I’ve seen this in my personal life. My wife is from Puerto Rico. She generally agrees with the ACLU but isn’t passionate about the issues. When I’ve suggested she attend an event or our state conference, she has said that it would be like asking me to attend one of her teacher conferences.
But when all of this started brewing last year, she was fired up. She was ready to go to Hazleton to march, rally, and do whatever else we could to oppose what was happening. (I told her that our contribution would be me doing my job.)
This touches a nerve with all Latinos.
White privilege. One of the biggest challenges we face in race relations in this country is the failure of us white folk to recognize the privilege we have. I think about this any time when I could be asked for ID but am not, whenever I get on public transportation- particularly airplanes-, whenever I’m around police officers or security guards who don’t have their guard up in my presence.
There have been times when I’ve set off metal detectors at government buildings, and the guards didn’t bother waving the wand over me or asking me to go back through. One time, I even had someone tell me that I didn’t “look like the criminal type.” What’s that about? (Can’t recall where that was. It might have been a bank.)
To bring it back to Hazleton, many whites who have genuinely good intentions fail to recognize the harm their rhetoric and actions cause on minority communities.
Dover reset: Watch your local government. One of the lessons from the Dover intelligent design trial was on display again during testimony on Tuesday and Wednesday. Local officials are prone to putting forth half-baked ideas without really knowing the issues involved. We saw this in Dover when school board members admitted on the stand that they didn’t even know what intelligent design was, and now we’re learning that Mayor Barletta and Council President Yanuzzi really don’t understand immigration law or the mechanics of enforcing it. That’s totally understandable because this is complicated stuff that only those who are professionals totally understand. I certainly don’t get it. But to bring forth this ordinance without this understanding was irresponsible.
This is not Dover. Around here, we have a tendency to compare this trial to Dover since that was our last big trial. One of the common comments about our blogging during the Dover trial was how funny it was, and there was plenty of material to play with during Dover. The scientists were like kids in a candy store, giddily explaining their craft on a big stage, and the school board fulfilled the worst stereotypes about people from small towns.
The Hazleton trial just doesn’t lend itself to that kind of fun. If Dover was a comedy, Hazleton is a tragedy. We’re talking about race, murder, threatening hate mail, and the tearing apart of a community. This is serious stuff.
Andy in Harrisburg