Warner: Ah, Memories, but Why Does Texas Want to Be Like the Way We Were?

Demonstrators kept reminding former Sheriff Joe Arpaio of his support for SB 1070 during his contempt of court hearings. Does the same fate await Texas?
Demonstrators kept reminding former Sheriff Joe Arpaio of his support for SB 1070 during his contempt of court hearings. Does the same fate await Texas?
Stephen Lemons

A lot of folks have been noting lately that Texas is trying to do its best impression of Arizona.

That’s not a compliment. And it’s not a fair comparison any more.

But before I moved here from Ohio more than four years ago, I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to be like this state.

This is mostly what I knew about Arizona back then:

Scorpions, rattlesnakes, Charles Barkley, coyotes, prickly cactus, falling into the Grand Canyon, and Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

I was most fearful of Sheriff Joe. I had already almost been busted once for Walking While Looking Hispanic.

I've told this story before:

I had just finished a long run, six or seven miles, on a summer Saturday morning in the late 1980s. The temperature was already approaching 90 degrees as I stopped to walk the final blocks back to my home in Akron, Ohio.

I took off my T-shirt to wipe the sweat off my face. And all of a sudden I thought I was in a bad cop movie. An Akron police cruiser hopped the curb and came to a screeching halt on the sidewalk, only a couple of feet from my bare legs. I was pinned between the driver's side of the car and a chain link fence.

A thick-chested cop with a blond flattop stepped out.

"We got a report that a Puerto Rican man robbed a store near here," he said, glaring at me. "You fit the description."

Right. Average height. Average weight. Dark hair. Beard. Wearing nothing but shorts, socks, and running shoes. I smiled nervously. Then said something I probably shouldn't have.

"Where would I put whatever it is that I stole?"

He did not seem amused.

"Let's see some ID," he barked.

I had no pockets. No driver's license. Not even a house key on me. I had a feeling I was about to go downtown. Or spread-eagle down on the sidewalk.

Then I glanced at the newspaper box on the street corner. I smiled. I was a columnist for the Akron Beacon Journal then. For some reason, Friday's edition was still in the box that Saturday morning. And there was a promotional photo for my column, about 3 inches high, at the top of the front page.

"Don't have any ID," I said. "But that's my picture — right there."

He looked at the newspaper box. He looked back at me. And back at the box. And back at me.

Finally, he smiled, too. He told dispatch he'd caught a columnist, not a criminal. Then he drove off, presumably to look for other men who looked like me.

If that had happened to me in liberal Northeast Ohio, which twice voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama, what could I expect in Arizona? (At least after two knee replacements since then, I wouldn’t be out running anymore.)

I had read about how the Legal Arizona Workers Act in 2007, and especially SB 1070 three years later, made the state inhospitable to anyone who even looked Hispanic. According to Forbes magazine, the combination of the two resulted in 200,000 people leaving the state by 2012.

That caused a precipitous drop in the housing market, which was down more than 50 percent according to some estimates, about a third more than the rest of the nation during the housing crisis.

But by the time, I got here in 2013, most of SB 1070, the legislation that gave Sheriff Joe his superpowers, was being dismantled by the courts. The housing market was rebounding, and people were moving to the state again.

Arizona isn’t such a bad place after all, I thought, except that no one warned me about javelinas and haboobs. I even met Arpaio, and he seemed like a decent chap, though I don’t understand how such a devoted family man could have taken pleasure in busting up so many Hispanic families.

So why is Texas trying to be like we were back then?

Texas Governor Greg Abbott recently signed into law SB 4 … a lower number, perhaps, but nevertheless a bill that seems as onerous as the original SB 1070.

SB 4 requires all Texas law-enforcement agents to ask about the immigration status of anyone they detain. No papers, and they can put you on ICE. Officers can be fined for not making suspicious-looking folks like me for show their documents.

The bill also has produced a lot of Arizona comparisons.

“We have resisted prejudice in the past in California and Arizona, and we will do it now in Texas,"  Ben Monterroso, executive director of Mi Familia Vota, said in a statement.

Added the ACLU’s Lorella Praeli, “The Texas Chambers even went so far as to mandate that college campus police function as ICE agents — forcing our youth to live in constant fear. Our job is to protect all Texans — not target those with accents or darker skin. Just like in Arizona and Alabama, our community will use all of our resources to fight against the Lone Star State’s mandate of hate.”

Ouch!

She compared us to Alabama. I’d like to think that the only similarity between us and them is that both states begin and end with the letter “A.”

Immigration reform group America’s Voice called Texas “the New Arizona.”

Never fear, the Texas governor assures us. Only the criminals need to worry, Abbott said.

Tell that to the cops who could be facing a $1,000 fine for a first offense of not cooperating with federal immigration requests and up to $25,000 for repeated offenses. That’s a lot of extra overtime.

Do you think the Akron officer who thought I was Puerto Rican would have demanded my papers if failure to do so would have been deducted out of his paycheck?

Of course, even if I had been the Puerto Rican thief that day, I couldn’t have been deported.

How many of you who still believe that SB 1070 should be the law of the land know why?

Take your time.


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