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PERSPECTIVES ON PROPOSITION 187 : Vote No on Racial Injustice : Pioneers of the black civil-rights movement would find common cause with Latinos in today's California.

Prop. 187. Measures would deny public health, education and welfare benefits to illegal immigrants. Part of a series.

November 04, 1994|JOE R. HICKS and CONSTANCE L. RICE | Joe R. Hicks is executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Los Angeles. Constance L. Rice is western regional counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.

We must all learn to live together as brothers. Or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one indirectly affects all indirectly. -The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King delivered these words in the last Sunday sermon of his life. His message resounds in many other words during his crusade for the dignity and worth of all humankind. They also echo the words of Thurgood Marshall, Fannie Lou Hamer, A. Phillip Randolph, Robert Moses and Rosa Parks. If these and other African American giants of the civil-rights movement were with us in California today, they would speak to those who are poised to vote Tuesday for Proposition 187.

As champions of equal justice who crusaded for racial equity, they would reject a law that will subject Latinos and Asians--but not Europeans--to suspicion and stigma. Even ex-drug czar William Bennett understands that. He recently said of the measure, "It is a mandate for ethnic discrimination. Does anyone seriously doubt that Latino children named Rodriguez would be more likely to appear 'illegal' than Anglo children named, say, Jones?"

As crusaders for young people blocked at the school doors by Orval Faubus and George Wallace, they would reject a law that turns teachers into INS agents and children away from school to the streets. As warriors for economic equity who defended poor Southern black migrants seen as a threat to white union jobs, they would reject a law that scapegoats the poorest Latinos and Asians for a shrinking pie--a pie that African Americans had been denied a share of before today's immigrants arrived, a pie that has always been disproportionately allocated to the powerful and non-minority.

As foes of racial hatred, they would oppose a law born of racial resentment; there would be no Proposition 187 if Southern California's immigrant community were mostly Canadian or British. And they would condemn as racist the portrayals of today's immigrants as criminal, different from yesterday's "good" European immigrants.

As marchers for truth, they would reject a measure that deflects attention from the failure to address the crisis in the African American community, including the unacceptable facts that the rate of unemployed blacks in urban centers exceeds 50%, median black family income is 60% of whites' and the incarceration rate of black children in California is the highest in the world.

As drummers for justice, they would reject Proposition 187 as a diversion that shields from scrutiny policies that have caused the poorest people of all races to suffer a 40% drop in their incomes while the richest 10% enjoyed a 10% increase, policies that cut breakfast programs for poor children but preserve tax breaks for yachts, policies that raise fares of poor minority bus riders who have no cars but subsidize the fares of predominantly white upper-middle-class train riders to facilitate their commute.

As humanitarians of the highest order, they would reject a law that bars the sick from hospitals and leaves children defenseless against the ravages of disease. And, as the tacticians who destroyed American apartheid, they would reject a law incapable of solving the problem but capable of triggering the loss of millions in federal funds.

The civil-rights giants who preceded us would demand that we find real solutions to the economic crisis that threatens everyone, here and across the border. This means regional solutions, not the snake oil currently being peddled to Californians.

As prophets of a vision for interracial tolerance and fluency, they would reject Proposition 187 as Balkanizing in the already polarized arena of racial politics. You should too. Vote no on Proposition 187. In the words of the late, great Justice Marshall: "We can run from each other, but we cannot escape each other. Knock down the fences that divide. . . . Reach out: Freedom lies just on the other side."

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