We are one community

Sheriff Steve Bizzell of Johnston County, N.C., stated in a recent interview: “Mexicans are trashy. They are breeding like rabbits. They are spreading a culture of drunkenness and violence. They rape, rob and murder American citizens.” It is amazing; Sheriff Bizzell insulted and demeaned virtually every person in the Latino community in Johnston County. His equal enforcement of laws should come under review. Why would any person in the Latino community seek his help or protection in any circumstances? I am outraged.

The Asheville-Buncombe Community Relations Council has worked tirelessly for over 35 years to eliminate discrimination and promote positive community relations. We have taken stands on many controversial and difficult issues, remaining true to our mission to help people develop mutual respect and to eliminate discrimination in our community.

Over the past few weeks, there has been a great public outcry over the immigration raids at Mills Manufacturing in Buncombe County. Hundreds of people, community organizations, churches and individuals have organized vigils and contributed thousands of dollars to help the families of those who were detained in the raids. At the same time, many members of our community have praised the raid and feel that enforcement of the law is long overdue. The issues raised are not simple, and all views deserve to be heard.

There are a number of disturbing signs in our community. Some people have used dehumanizing language and derogatory terms toward immigrants as a part of daily speech. There are checkpoints targeting Latino neighborhoods. Our community colleges are forced to lock their doors to undocumented immigrant students. Members of the Latino community—men, women and children—experience regular harassment, regardless of their immigrant status. Public speeches, media articles and billboards have painted immigrants in the worst light. They have become the scapegoat for our economic and employment crisis.

There are a number of hopeful signs as well. Many in our community have stepped forward in calling for policy reform, clarity and consistency regarding the rights of immigrants. Volunteers, churches and community organizations have offered English classes, legal assistance and cultural learning opportunities. It is especially important that we recognize the peaceful actions of the Latino community in responding to harassment and fear with educational workshops, community celebrations, cultural festivals and training for immigrants about American history, civil rights and other forms of nonviolent civic engagement.

The Community Relations Council was created at a point in our history when black Americans were treated as a second class of people, with few civil rights and legal protections. Harassment and intimidation was a part of the daily experience of many people. The struggle for full social, political and economic equality is not over, and we simply cannot allow the creation of another segregated second class of people.

While we call on our officials and hold them accountable to enact meaningful and humane immigration reform, let us have our own local dialogue about immigration. There is room for expressing all of the wide range of views and opinions that people have. Everyone has a right and a responsibility to express their concern without fear of harassment and intimidation or threats. We are one community, and how we treat each other is really who we are.

— Bob Smith, director
Asheville-Buncombe Community Relations Council

Editor’s note: The Asheville-Buncombe Community Relations Council is hosting a Town Hall Forum on Immigration next Tuesday, Nov. 11, from 7 to 9 p.m. at St. Eugene’s Catholic Church. There will be no speakers or presentations; instead, audience members will be invited to voice their opinions or questions on the subject. Interpretors will be provided so that dialogue may be held in Spanish or English. For further information, call 252-4731.

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