(Cross-posted from 9500 Liberty – promoted by lowkell)
Recently several people in Prince William County, Virginia were elated to send me word that Politifact has rated as “mostly false” four years worth of electioneering slogans uttered by Chairman Corey Stewart, who figures heavily in the documentary film I co-directed with Annabel Park, 9500 Liberty. His comments are about immigrants and crime, essentially patting himself on the back for reducing crime by chasing away immigrants. I have objections to this claim that go beyond its inaccuracy.
It would be nice if Chairman Stewart’s status as the top elected official in one of the nation’s largest counties was enough to qualify his comments for fact-checking BEFORE they are quoted and telecast in mainstream media. Sadly, this has not often been the case since our saga began in July of 2007. But, with the Chairman’s recent announcement that he is running for the Republican nomination for Virginia’s Lt. Governor, it looks as if that is about to change. If so, I predict that he will revise or eliminate the “immigration culture warrior” theme from his narrative.
(I wrote my own analysis of Prince William County’s crime statistics two years ago, and, frankly I like mine a bit better. But Politifact digs deeper into the data, comparing the county’s crime reports to those of the Commonwealth and the FBI.)
Chairman Stewart has several other skills to market to Virginia voters, and many things on his record that mainstream Virginians could appreciate. I don’t understand why he tries so hard to pander to a segment of the Republican party that prioritizes anxiety about demographic shift over public safety, the economy, and fiscal responsibility. The majority of people in Prince William County disagree with these priorities, the majority of Virginians disagree, and the majority of Americans disagree. In fact, if you watch our film, most members of the Prince William County government including at least 6 of the 8 members of the Board of Supervisors also disagree. That’s why the county’s ‘probable cause’ mandate – the first ever instance of Arizona and Alabama’s ‘reasonable suspicion’ laws written by the same self-described anti-immigration lobbying firm in DC – was repealed 8 weeks after it was implemented.
But my biggest problem with Chairman Stewart’s immigration electioneering is that it insinuates that immigrants and others who left our county during the culture war are more likely to commit crimes than other folks. Statistics show that immigrants and undocumented immigrants are LESS likely to commit crimes, and in fact, more likely to be victims of crimes. In particular, immigrants were victims of robberies in our county because they were known to carry cash and were less likely to report crimes to authorities. The fall in “violent crime” is attributable almost entirely to a fall in aggravated assault, and this in turn, was attributable to Police Chief Charlie Deane’s implementation of a Robbery Unit to prevent and deter such crimes. Politifact points out that fear and distrust of law enforcement, due largely to the intrusion of politics into public safety, impacted these statistics by making immigrants and people of color less likely to report crimes in general.
Chairman Stewart is smearing people for committing crimes that, in fact, they fall victim to. Back in 2010 I told him how I feel about this face-to-face. He listened politely and without the confrontational posture he takes on while in public settings. I told him that I felt that his rhetoric had fueled negative stereotypes and even prejudice toward immigrants and people of color – namely, that there is some sort of link between skin color and a propensity to commit crime. He said he thought people were sophisticated enough to know that he is not speaking of any particular race or skin color. But, as I testified in the US Commission on Civil Rights hearing that serves as the moral turning point in the film, race and ethnicity were indispensable when describing the scapegoats who made the culture war necessary, and, when describing the purpose of the infamous “probable cause” mandate.
I’d like to see Virginia and America move beyond feelings like that, and I’d like to see our leaders move past exploiting such feelings in their political campaigns. But most of all, it is important that we uphold our Constitution and cherished values such as fairness and equal protection under the law. We must not allow political rhetoric that exploits prejudice to be codified into law. The Supreme Court may choose to weigh in on this soon. I hope they do for the sake of our nation’s economy, and for the sake of the public safety and fiscal solvency of Arizona, Alabama, and other states afflicted by this misguided, opportunistic law.