By Fidel "Butch" Montoya
The immigration debate in our country continues to fan the flames of hate and racism, while our elected leaders fail to address the issue of immigration reform.
In many communities across our country, few try to distinguish between “undocumented immigrants” and Latino citizens. In many cases, racial profiling has reached a point in our country where many white residents feel it is proper and necessary, in order to protect the community.
As in the Civil Rights struggle in the Deep South, today law enforcement plays a dominant role in the enforcement of local ordinances and laws against undocumented immigrants. For some sheriff departments, it appears they have a blank check in terms of how they take care of the problem.
In the Deep South, no one dare question the police about how they took care of the police riots, marches, and civil disobedience during the Civil Rights Movement.
An interesting case and point, we have another sheriff in Johnston County in North Carolina who has taken the initiative to become the local hero by not only enforcing the local immigration laws, but in the use of his caustic and hateful language toward undocumented immigrants.
For some reason, law enforcement sheriffs and police chiefs feel they have complete freedom to express the hate and bigotry of the community at large, and that no one will hold them accountable for their actions.
In Johnston County, The News & Observer reports that because there are no recognized community leaders in the Latino community, Sheriff Steve Bizzell does not have to worry about being accountable for his actions or his words. The newspaper says he is well known for his incendiary words against “drunken Mexicans.”
Days ago, in an interview with The News & Observer, Sheriff Bizzell apparently forgot he was a professional leader in law enforcement. However, before we get to that part of the story, keep in mind, Sheriff Bizzell is homegrown in North Carolina and comes from the "bubba and red neck ancestry" of the area, or as many refer to it here, the true American culture.
He is so “steeped in traditional American culture” as The News & Observer refers to his backward ways, Sheriff Bizzell will not eat spaghetti, much less a taco. Apparently, these two foods do not represent "American culture."
Like many other communities of the South, Johnston County has seen the Hispanic population increase over time. Today, Latinos are 11% of the county community, and that has the county’s residents worried about becoming the minority.
Immigrants have come to Johnston County seeking jobs,and as in other cases across America, a better way of life for their families. In many respects, Sheriff Bizzell will acknowledge the contributions made by the immigrants who live in the county. but then immediately frowns on them living in his county.
Nevertheless, there is an ugly side to Sheriff Bizzell as well. Just as so many other Americans feel it is okay to express their hate and distain openly, Sheriff Bizzell has become the official leader of expressing hate and intolerance.
In the interview with The News & Observer, he referred to Mexicans as “drunks,” “breeding like rabbits,” “rape, rob, and murder American citizens,” and “fail to pay taxes and drain social services.”
Sheriff Bizzell believes they are spreading a culture of drunkenness and violence. He resents the fact that Latinos have changed the face of his small county, bringing crime and a life style, which frightens the “regular citizens.”
Bizzell says, “Everywhere I go, people say, ‘Sheriff what are we going to do about all these Mexicans?”
Even the mayor of Four Oaks, Linwood Parker, says, “Everyone in this county sleeps a little better because he is here.” Just knowing Sheriff Bizzell is on the job dealing with all those Mexicans brings a sense of security to a community uncertain about its future.
The small area of Johnston County protected by Sheriff Bizzell, literally represents what is happening across our country.
We are all aware of the unlawful antics of Arizona Maricopa County Sheriff Arpaio and his posse of over 300-armed Minutemen. In Arizona even the outspoken Mayor Phil Gordon of Phoenix does not want Sheriff Arpaio in their city enforcing broken tail lights, cracked windshields, and driving while Brown.
Therefore, the good Sheriff Bizzell is not a new revelation of a leader in a position of trust, who often publicly degrades and offends the Latino community.
Why so many people feel it is okay to expose the “ugly American attitude”, publicly announce their hate, and disrespect for undocumented immigrants and sometimes failing to even acknowledge the difference of anyone Brown and who looks like a Mexican.
While Sheriff Bizzell will admit that immigrants are good workers, and have contributed to the well-being of the community, they are "trashy" “rude,” “unfriendly,” and Bizzell says, “All they do is work and make love, I think. Look at all those kids right there.”
Sheriff Bizzell represents a community that does not understand their new neighbors, “workers who work in the fields from sunrise to sunset,” “who have legions of children dependent on welfare”, and “don’t pay taxes.”
The white community hates the fact that the immigrants speak Spanish and they can’t understand what they say, but also believe they are the rudest people they have ever seen as one resident complains, “Like at Wal-Mart, they stand right in the middle of the aisle and they won’t move for anything.”
A lack of understanding, long held values of bigotry, strong emotional ties to racism, and a heritage of white entitlement are some of the under current issues facing this community.
However, as long as they have Sheriff Bizzell to say what they want to say publicly, nothing will change.
The good news, Sheriff Bizzell did apologize a few days after the interview in The News & Observer. However as long as feelings of hate, suspicion, and fear from local residents continue to come to center stage, perhaps even apologies will mean nothing.
Sheriff Bizzell says, “There’s a lot of jealousy.” They’ll say, ‘Mexicans moved into our neighborhood, and they’re driving a Cadillac Escalade. Lord, we worked all our lives and we never had one of those.”
Fidel “Butch” Montoya
H. S. Power & Light Ministries – Latino Faith Initiative
Denver, Colorado 80212