A cloudy summer morning in Phoenix, Ariz., concealed the sun that would later appear and heat up the day on the heated, dreaded date when Arizona Law SB 1070 was implemented.
The law, signed by Arizona Governor Janice Brewer on April 23, 2010, had reached its 90day time frame to be implemented. The date, July 29, had become a contentious countdown for both opponents and supporters of the law.
As I arrived to downtown Phoenix, a rally deemed “A Day of No Compliance” was beginning to take form. About two hundred people had gathered around the Cesar E. Chavez Plaza, on Washington Avenue, just across the Phoenix City Hall building.
The protest had been organized by the Arizona based group Puente Movement, the most vocal and active group against immigration crackdown in Maricopa County, jurisdiction of the most aggressive law enforcement officer against illegal immigration in Arizona and the nation, Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
The demonstration was to condemn the implementation of SB 1070 through acts of civil disobedience. This demonstration was carried out in spite that Federal Judge Susan Bolton had ordered the day before a partial injunction on SB 1070, ruling out the strongest provisions against illegal immigration.
Carlos Garcia, an organizer with Puente Movement, using a bullhorn told the crowd that despite the partial injunction on the law, immigrants without legal documents were still subject to policies like the 287 (g), an agreement between federal immigration authorities and local law enforcement agencies.
“We are all to take on the streets,” Garcia informed demonstrators mostly young adultsand pointing his hand toward Washington Street he added, “We are all going to be there, and show Joe Arpaio we are not scared of him. Show the Obama Administration we are not going to stop.”
Within seconds, the crowd walked into the middle of Washington Street, just below the Wells Fargo building that houses the sheriff’s office, loudly chanting: “SB 1070; we will not comply!” A few cars were momentarily stranded, blocked by the crowd walking among them.
Jorge Mendez, an immigrant for Uruguay and a Phoenix resident, wearing a giant bubble head in the likeness of Sheriff Arpaio, played a drum in a paradelike fashion, while walking in the middle of the street.
Simultaneously, dozens of Phoenix Police Officers in full riot gear created columns to stop people from walking on the street. Others began ordering the people to stay on the sidewalks.
An unidentified woman wearing a bright yellow shirt from the group “Standing on the Side of Love,” and holding a sign on her hand that read in Spanish, “Stop Racism,” was the first to disobey police orders. She tried to avoid being stopped for a few seconds. Two cops eventually subdued her and arrested her.
Looking from the sidewalk was Roberto Reveles, a U.S. Citizens and son of Mexican immigrants. Reveles, a resident of Gold Canyon, was behind the pro-immigration reform marches of 2006 in Phoenix, when he was president of the organization called “Somos America”. He is the current president of the ACLU of Arizona Board of Directors. I asked him for his opinion about the civil disobedience acts.
“People have come the point of civil disobedience because they have not have been heard,” he said, as he kept looking at the chaotic scenes in the heart of Downtown Phoenix. “They feel frustrated because they have not accomplished their goal through peaceful marches.”
Phoenix Immigration Attorney Emilia Bañuelos, covering from the intense sunlight with one of the signs distributed at the rally, told me, “It is understandable that people are frustrated and angry. The law (SB 1070) was not stopped completely. However, it does not matter who is arrested today; the important message is that we still need an immigration reform.”
Washington Street and First Avenue were blocked for more than two hours. The acts of civil disobedience affected the general traffic and public transportation. The southbound Phoenix Light Rail was stranded about half of a mile north of Washington Street for the duration of the protest.
At one point, police began arresting men and women, young people and seniors, who refused to clear the area. There was no resistance. People on the sidewalks were cheering for those being arrested.
As the Noon’s time heat was having its effects on both protesters and police officers, I saw a woman demonstrator in charge of giving water bottles to the people offering one to a police officer who was assigned to a spot near a sidewalk. The friendly gesture was well accepted. Remember, this is Phoenix during summer.
© 2010 – 2017, Eduardo Barraza. All rights reserved.