THIS BLOG is NOW RETIRED

I began this blog in May 2009 following the death of Marcia Powell at Perryville State Prison in Goodyear, Arizona. It is not intended to prescribe the path that leads to freedom from the prison industrial complex.

Rather, these are just my observations in arguably the most racist, fascist, militaristic state in the nation at a critical time in history for a number of intersecting liberation movements. From Indigenous resistance to genocidal practices, to the fight over laws like SB1070 and the ban on Ethnic Studies, Arizona is at the center of many battles for human rights, and thus the struggle for prison abolition as well - for none are free until all are. I retired the blog in APRIL 2013.

Visit me now at Arizona Prison Watch or Survivors of Prison Violence-AZ

David Rovics: We Are Everywhere

To my fellow activists now struggling through life - let this be a reminder that you are not alone and that we desperately need you here. All the injustice, grief, war, and human suffering calls for us to stay and do everything we can about it - you can't help us anymore when you're gone. Don't give up the fight - your last shred of hope may just keep someone else alive, too.
BLOG POSTS

Sunday, June 20, 2010

When perception trumps reality...

Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

Sheriff’s deputies for Maricopa County, Ariz., took people into custody in March at what they said was a drop house in Phoenix.

On Border Violence, Truth Pales Compared to Ideas


When Representative Gabrielle Giffords, Democrat of Arizona, announced that the Obama administration would send as many as 1,200 additional National Guard troops to bolster security at the Mexican border, she held up a photograph of Robert Krentz, a mild-mannered rancher who was shot to death this year on his vast property. The authorities suspected that the culprit was linked to smuggling.

“Robert Krentz really is the face behind the violence at the U.S.-Mexico border,” Ms. Giffords said.

It is a connection that those who support stronger enforcement of immigration laws and tighter borders often make: rising crime at the border necessitates tougher enforcement.

But the rate of violent crime at the border, and indeed across Arizona, has been declining, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as has illegal immigration, according to the Border Patrol. While thousands have been killed in Mexico’s drug wars, raising anxiety that the violence will spread to the United States, F.B.I. statistics show that Arizona is relatively safe.

That Mr. Krentz’s death nevertheless churned the emotionally charged immigration debate points to a fundamental truth: perception often trumps reality, sometimes affecting laws and society in the process.

Judith Gans, who studies immigration at the Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy at the University of Arizona, said that what social psychologists call self-serving perception bias seemed to be at play. Both sides in the immigration debate accept information that confirms their biases, she said, and discard, ignore or rationalize information that does not. There is no better example than the role of crime in Arizona’s tumultuous immigration debate.

“If an illegal immigrant commits a crime, this confirms our view that illegal immigrants are criminals,” Ms. Gans said. “If an illegal immigrant doesn’t commit a crime, either they just didn’t get caught or it’s a fluke of the situation.”

Ms. Gans noted that sponsors of Arizona’s controversial immigration enforcement law have made careers of promising to rid the state of illegal immigrants through tough legislation.

“Their repeated characterization of illegal immigrants as criminals — easy to do since they broke immigration laws — makes it easy for people to ignore statistics,” she said.

Moreover, crime statistics, however rosy, are abstract. It takes only one well-publicized crime, like Mr. Krentz’s shooting, to drive up fear.

It is also an election year, and crime and illegal immigration — and especially forging a link between the two — remain a potent boost for any campaign. Gov. Jan Brewer’s popularity, once in question over promoting a sales tax increase, surged after signing the immigration bill, which is known as SB 1070 but officially called the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act.

No matter that manpower and technology are at unprecedented levels at the border, it may never be secure enough in Arizona’s hothouse political climate when Congressional seats, the governor’s office and other positions are at stake in the Aug. 24 primaries.

It took the Obama administration a few weeks to bow to that political reality and go from trumpeting the border as more secure than it had ever been to ordering National Guard troops to take up position there — most of them in Arizona, Mr. Obama assured Ms. Brewer in a private meeting — because it was not secure enough.

Crime figures, in fact, present a more mixed picture, with the likes of Russell Pearce, the Republican state senator behind the immigration enforcement law, playing up the darkest side while immigrant advocacy groups like Coalición de Derechos Humanos (Human Rights Coalition), based in Tucson, circulate news reports and studies showing that crime is not as bad as it may seem.

For instance, statistics show that even as Arizona’s population swelled, buoyed in part by illegal immigrants funneling across the border, violent crime rates declined, to 447 incidents per 100,000 residents in 2008, the most recent year for which comprehensive data is available from the F.B.I. In 2000, the rate was 532 incidents per 100,000.

Nationally, the crime rate declined to 455 incidents per 100,000 people, from 507 in 2000.

But the rate for property crime, the kind that people may experience most often, increased in the state, to 4,082 per 100,000 residents in 2008 from 3,682 in 2000. Preliminary data for 2009 suggests that this rate may also be falling in the state’s biggest cities.

What is harder to pin down is how much of the crime was committed by illegal immigrants.

Phoenix’s police chief, Jack Harris, who opposes the new law, said that about 13 percent of his department’s arrests are illegal immigrants, a number close to the estimated percentage of illegal immigrants in the local population. But the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, which runs the jail for Phoenix and surrounding cities and is headed by Joe Arpaio, a fervent supporter of the law, has said that 19 percent of its inmates are illegal immigrants...

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