The man right-wing crackers love to hate, the Reverend Al Sharpton, preached to standing ovations from the crowd at Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church Wednesday night, in an impressive show of opposition to Arizona's new "papers please" immigration law, which he blasted as encouraging the profiling of Latinos.
Afterward, Sharpton donned a "Los Suns" jersey and lead a march of thousands to the Arizona state Capitol for a candlelight vigil, walking close to three miles in the Phoenix night, past the U.S. Airways Center, where the Suns were whipping the Spurs 110-102 in the second game of the Western Conference semi-finals.
Stopping only to allow the occasional light rail through, the demonstrators carried candles and glowsticks, along with American flags, portraits of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and signs urging President Barack Obama to intervene over the new law. They chanted as they went, shouting the ever-familiar "Si, se puede!" as well as SB 1070-related stuff like, "Hey-hey, ho-ho, this racist law has got to go."
Sharpton had a few remarks for the crowd at the Capitol, but his most powerful verbal punches were landed earlier at Pilgrim Rest, where he responded to those criticizing his presence, and denounced the new law as a pathway to widespread racial profiling.
"Let me get this right," Sharpton told the congregation, "if I want to give [Arizona] money, I'm welcome. But if I want to make sure that you do not profile and discriminate against my brothers and sisters, you tell me to mind my own business. Well I come to tell you, that when you mess with our people whether they're brown, whether they're white, whether they're black, that is my business."
The fiery orator noted that when Latinos "sent their sons and daughters to Afghanistan," their citizenship was respected. But now that Latinos have "fought wars and built schools and [become] taxpayers," some Arizonans "want to pull them over to the side of the road and act like they're second class citizens."
Sharpton continued: "We must not be duped into a double standard for anybody. If they do it to Latinos today, they'll do it to your group tomorrow. If you open the door to a double standard for anybody, you open the door to a double standard for everybody."
And he had a special message for African-Americans.
"To my...black brothers and sisters that think this is not your fight," he said. "Let me tell you something, after dark, we all look Mexican right now."
He also promised that if the Obama administration didn't intervene and if court challenges failed to overturn the law, he would bring "freedom walkers" to Arizona from all over the nation to agitate against SB 1070.
"We're going to bring them in the spirit of the freedom riders," he stated, invoking the memory of civil rights activists past. "And we're going to walk the streets of Arizona, freedom walkin', arm in arm. And if you lock up one, you're going to have to lock us all up. Rev, you say, why are they gonna lock you up? Because none of us is going to have our papers. So you're going to have to take us all."
Much of the sermon echoed statements Sharpton made earlier at a press conference I blogged about yesterday, albeit in a more rousing form. He ended by assuring the audience that they would be successful in the struggle against SB 1070.
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"I've come tonight to tell you...don't get weary, don't get tired, don't back down, don't sell out, we're going to win, because truth crushed to earth shall rise again."
Later at the Capitol, I buttonholed Pastor Warren Stewart of the First Institutional Baptist Church and asked him if the march signaled a new bond between the African-American and Latino communities. He was cautious, but optimistic.
"That's the goal," he told me. "We're not quite there yet. But as this justice issue goes around, the African-American community can't help but to see the parallels between the [treatment] of us during the '50s and '60s in Jim Crow and today.
"Some are reluctant because they see the whole `illegal' issue as separate. But just because the law is legal doesn't mean it's moral. Laws can be unjust. Slavery was legal. But it was unjust, and I'm trying to get my black brothers and sisters to see that this is deja vu."