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In responding to Charlottesville, actions speak louder than words

Community members demonstrate at the State House in Boston to stand up for immigrant rights and support the Safe Communities Act. Photo: Gabriel Camacho / AFSC

Politicians who condemn white supremacy must also oppose racist policies in their states.

In the wake of racist white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, public officials in Massachusetts held a press conference denouncing a planned rally by the Free Speech Movement, the Daily Stormer, and Bikers for Trump scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 19 at the Boston Common. At the press conference, Gov. Charlie Baker also vigorously denounced the violent "alt-right" march in Charlottesville, stating that "it's disturbing and sickening to turn on the news and see that there are people in this country who believe that the color of their skin or their place of birth makes them superior to their neighbors, and we as a Commonwealth flatly reject this intolerance."

Yet it is the very same Baker administration that, less than a month ago, introduced a bill that would allow all local law enforcement in the Commonwealth to detain immigrants for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) . The bill's introduction comes immediately after the highest court in the state ruled that holding immigrants on a detainer request for ICE violates the constitution of Massachusetts. In other words, police and court officers do not have the legal authority to hold immigrants for federal immigration purposes. This landmark case, "Lunn vs. Commonwealth," was the first time that the highest court of any state ruled that ICE detainers were illegal. 

As many organizations—such as the AFSC, the ACLU, Detention Watch Network , Service Employees International Union, National Day Laborer Organizing Network, and the Massachusetts Immigrant Refugee Advocacy Coalition—and many others fighting against the system that criminalizes immigrants know, programs that promote collusion between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities allow and encourage racial profiling. Since the passage of the anti-immigrant SB 1070 in Arizona in 2010, many states in the former confederacy have passed similar "show me your papers" laws. It's therefore hypocritical for the governor of Massachusetts, who is pushing for a bill that would institutionalize racial profiling, to simultaneously denounce what happened in Charlottesville and the white supremacist rally that happened in Boston last Saturday.

What Baker is doing here in Massachusetts is what we're seeing from elected officials across the country. Politicians in every state were quick to condemn white supremacists in Charlottesville, while at the same time continuing to support racist bills that would inflict deeper harm on communities of color. We have a responsibility to call out these contradictions—and push back against them.   

A solidarity rally in Cambridge on Aug. 14 in response to the events in Charlottesville, Virginia. Photo: Gabriel Camacho/AFSC

Gov. Baker's anti-immigrant bill seeks to make racial profiling by law enforcement legal in Massachusetts. While racist white supremacist ideology and rallies are offensive—and must be protested vigorously—these despicable actions do not institutionalize racism. The governor's bill undoubtedly would.

What can communities across Massachusetts do? First, we must continue to show up en masse to protest racist white supremacist rallies—and other demonstrations of hate and bigotry—like we did this past Saturday at the Boston Common. Thousands of anti-racist protesters marched against the white supremacist rally on Aug. 19, dwarfing the number of "alt-right" members in attendance. Massachusetts sent a strong message that day that we will not tolerate hate in our communities, so much so that Act for America, the country's largest anti-Muslim organization, decided to cancel 67 white supremacist rallies it had planned for next month.  

Second, we must defeat the governor's "show me your papers" bill and highlight his administration's hypocrisy. Third, we must support the Safe Communities Act, introduced by state Sen. James Eldridge and Rep. Juana Matias. The Safe Communities Act would create a firewall between local law enforcement and federal immigration enforcement actions, protect due process, and prohibit the use of any state database to be used for a federal Muslim registry. 

As Massachusetts residents, we must remind Gov. Baker of his own tweet after the violence in Charlottesville “Hatred & bigotry have no place here.” And across the country, we must hold all of our public officials accountable to ensure that their actions actually match the conviction and promises of their words.  

Editor's note: This blog post was updated on Aug. 24 to reflect recent events. 

About the Author

Gabriel Camacho is AFSC Immigration Programs Coordinator in Cambridge, Mass and works with AFSC's Communities Against Islamophobia pr

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