But It’s a Dry Hate

“But it’s a Dry Hate” presented to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa on August 15, 2010 © Rev. Fred L Hammond

A few months ago, I am sitting in the annual business meeting of the Unitarian Universalist Minister’s Association.  On the dais were two people not to debate the question of our denomination holding General Assembly in Phoenix in 2012 but to simply state their positions, pro and con.  Rev. Susan Frederick –Gray, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Phoenix gave an emotional appeal for us to not only host a Phoenix based General Assembly in 2012 but to come to Arizona on July 29th to  prevent one more child, one more mother, one more father from being ripped away from their families.  I listened to her call and I felt my heart affirming yes, I will go to Phoenix.

The call as I heard it was not simply to protest an unjust law because the law only codified what was already happening in Maricopa County and elsewhere in Arizona.  A population of indigenous and immigrant people were being systematically targeted as no longer welcome in a region that for thousands of years was their homeland.  The call was to return to our core values of honoring the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

On the grounds of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Phoenix is a sculpture by John Henry Waddell entitled “That Which Might Have Been: Birmingham 1963.” It is a reflection on what might have been offered to society, to the world at large had four young girls not died in a racist motivated firebombing of a church in Birmingham, AL in 1963.

That Which Might Have Been: Birmingham 1963 by John Henry Waddell

The gifts of these potential women are depicted in this sculpture, each facing outward to the four corners of the world.  The ‘what if’s’ surrounding these four young girls of what could have been is powerfully emoted.

Coming to Arizona from Alabama and being greeted by this image, this connection to another time and place when America was gripped in fear of a different other is a stark reminder that these two moments in our history, the civil rights movement and the immigration rights movement are linked together in profound ways.  As I pondered on this statue and its now ironic juxtaposition with the beginning of ethnic cleansing of Arizona, I wondered what the ‘what if’s’ might have been if SB 1070 and the other laws were not passed.  What would the lives of the families torn apart have been like had their mother or father not been deported? What gifts these families would have presented Arizona and the United States in the years that followed had a different scenario filled with love and welcome been played out?

What was hailed as a post-racist America when the first African American President was elected has certainly in the recent past months proved to be instead a new incarnation of racism in America.  And just as Arizonans like to exclaim to their out of state friends, “But it’s a dry heat,” this new incarnation of racism in America is a dry hate. There are no Jim Crow laws banning Latinos and Hispanics from white only drinking fountains or sitting at white only lunch counters.  There are no laws segregating schools into white and brown.  But as my friends on Facebook reminded me when I asked if there would be a marked difference between Alabama’s 104 temps with humidity vs Arizona’s 104 temps without humidity, hot is still hot.   And so it is with hate.

And while Arizona is insisting that racial profiling is not to be tolerated in the enforcement of this new law, it is evident in the actions of the Maricopa County sheriff who treats rescued abused dogs better than he treats Latinos, Hispanics, and indigenous people in his county.  It is evident in the actions of State Senator Pearce and Governor Brewer who have declared all undocumented persons from south of the border as criminals and parasites on the state.  Such dehumanizing behavior is racist and is a necessary component to begin ethnic cleansing or as Arizona prefers to call it, “enforcement through attrition.”  It is indeed a dry hate that is drying out the very heart of America as its fear spreads across the country into other states.

To begin to understand where this hatred originates, a history lesson is needed that is no longer allowed to be legally taught in Arizona because it places whites in a different social location, that of oppressor.  My colleague Rev. Jose Ballester of the Bell Street Chapel in Providence RI, informed me of this history, he writes “In a letter dated June 30, 1828 General Manuel Mier Y Teran warns Mexican president Guadalupe Victoria that the growing numbers of immigrants from the United States of America would soon disrupt the territory of Tejas (Texas), ‘It would cause you the same chagrin that it has caused me to see the opinion that is held of our nation by these foreign colonists, since, with the exception of some few who have journeyed to our capital, they know no other Mexicans than the inhabitants here. . . Thus, I tell myself that it could not be otherwise than that from such a state of affairs should arise an antagonism between the Mexicans and foreigners, which is not the least of the smoldering fires which I have discovered.  Therefore, I am warning you to take timely measures.’ Of particular concern was the immigrant’s ignoring the Mexican law prohibiting slavery.”[1] Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, parts of Nevada and Utah were ceded to the United States as a result of a war guised as defending the white American immigrants of Texas but intending to have the result of additional territory for this country.  When I was in Arizona, I saw many signs that declared, “I did not cross the border; the border crossed me.”

The United States has a long history of coercion and aggression to obtain territorial control.  When Spain ceded the Louisiana territory to France it contained the caveat that it not sell or surrender the land to the United States.  Florida became a territory after the invasion of the Spanish colony of La Florida by General Andrew Jackson.   What does this repeated action of conquest do the heart of a people?

On my first night in Arizona, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Phoenix showed the film, 9500 Liberty documenting the effects of a similar law passed in Prince William County, VA in 2007.  Producers, Eric Byler and Anabel Park were present to comment on the film and to answer questions. The film revealed the destruction of the economic base of the county and in increase of taxes by 25% as a result of the resolution targeting Hispanic citizens. But more poignantly the film chronicled the devolution of a community’s soul from harmony and tolerance to suspicion and fear of the other.

The following day, we gathered to begin our preparations for civil disobedience and how we would support those risking arrests. At this point in time, I am sure that I will participate in the acts of civil disobedience.  We knew that we would be involved in two actions; one will be the blocking of the intersection at the Wells Fargo Building where Sheriff Joe Arpaio has his offices.

On Wednesday night, the other action is still a question mark and therefore is not being discussed except among the leaders of Puente and the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA).  Puente is the human rights organization that we, the Unitarian Universalist congregations in Phoenix and the UUA, have aligned ourselves with in this process.

On Thursday morning at 4:30 AM some Unitarian Universalists gather at the federal court to join those who have been in vigil for the past 104 days since the law passed.  This was their last vigil as many were undocumented.  Being dependent on coordinated transportation I joined the vigilers at a 6:30AM Interfaith service at the Trinity Episcopal Cathedral.  As we approach the cathedral there is an early morning rainbow against the pink sky that seems to arc from the cathedral’s steeple to the Maricopa County Jail. My companions in the car wonder if it is a sign of good omen.

It is standing room only in the sanctuary, I am aware that because I am wearing a clerical collar I am ushered to one of the few remaining seats instead of being sent to the overflow rooms.  This was indeed an interfaith service with rabbis, imams, bishops from the Roman, Anglican, and Methodist traditions, pentecostal and protestant ministers participating, and Unitarian Universalist minister, Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray offering one of the three homilies.  The vigilers are also introduced and speak.  Their stories are poignant and personal.  The energy and spirit in the room is electric.

We walk from the cathedral to the Wells Fargo building, we are singing songs.  We are a sea of “Standing on the Side of Love” yellow shirts as far as one’s eyes can fathom.  I am greeted several times by locals, Latinos and whites alike, with “Thank you for coming.”

It is time to make our final preparations for one of the two actions we agreed to be involved in that day.  We are going to block the intersection.  Our organizer is giving excellent details as to what is going to happen.  Then she announces there are people wearing florescent green hats who can connect us with lawyers if there are questions about after the arrest.   I paused.

In my work with Soulforce many years ago, I knew that this journey I was embarking on was a spiritual journey and not simply a political one.  The way of justice is always aligned with the spirit.  Where was my spirit in this work?  Was I truly prepared to what might occur at the hands of what I have come to believe to be a sadistic sheriff?

In speaking with the lawyers I was told that because I was from out of state, because I chose not to have any verifying documentation on my person that would identify me as a citizen, that I might be required to post bond in order to be released.   One of my last conversations with our board president was that my benefit compensation package did not include bond money.  I laughed then, but the question of who would post bond for me was now no laughing matter.  I knew I did not have enough money in my account for such a bond.  And I suddenly realized that I did not know if I could trust the process to move forward with civil action.  I did not know who had my back should I be arrested.  And because I could not answer this question with any full assurance, I stepped away from the civil action and assumed a supportive role.

I now know where my personal work lies in order for me to continue to stand on the side of love.  This week has been truly a gift to me if only because of this one realization.  But I ask you, where does your inner soul work lie enabling you to continue to stand on the side of love?   Because as this work continues, it will grow harder for some of us and it will demand a strong spiritual commitment to this work.

There are many stories of grace being witnessed as the protests continue.  One of my colleagues overheard an African American child ask her mother what they were doing.  Her response, “Do you remember what I told you about Dr. Martin Luther King, that is what they are doing.”[2] I see our people in yellow shirts, go up to police who are standing on the frying hot pavement and offer them water, which is gratefully received.

Mar Cardenas from First Unitarian Universalist Church in San Diego is the first to be arrested. In the county jail, Sheriff Arpaio, wants to see just who these yellow shirts are that disrupted his plans for his biggest raid to date.  She sees him and makes the sign of a heart with her hands and says, “I love you Sheriff Joe.”  He looks at her and says who me?  “Yes, you.” she replies.  He shakes his head in bafflement at her gesture. Mar Cardenas later states that she recognizes that Sheriff Joe Arpaio despite his cruel and sometimes sadistic actions against the Hispanic community, he still has dignity and worth as a human being.  It is simply a matter of reaching that core of him that still recognizes others as human.

I hear about the arrest of Unitarian Universalist Audrey Williams who is in physical pain and suffering from heat exhaustion.  She is asked by the police if she still wants to be arrested after they have escorted her out of the hot sun and into the shade. The police tell her once she is in the county jail, her experience will not be easy.  She sees the Latinos in the crowd and lifts her fist and says to the Latinos, “I love each of you.”  The police then arrest her.   Because of her medical condition she is placed into an icy cold isolation cell with no blanket and no communication with the others.

Meanwhile, our organizers discover that the Maricopa County Jail has no police officers outside the building.  So the second action is given the go ahead.  Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray and members of Puente create a barricade in front of the receiving door.  They have linked their arms inside of pvc pipes, with metal bars where jellybean clips to hold their wrists in place.  The pipes are wrapped in paper with “no 1070” and “no 287(g)” written on them. This human chain is then chained to the poles on either side of the entrance.  A banner proclaiming “Not one more” in English and in Spanish is hoisted above them.   The Maricopa County Police are taken by surprise.  They have never seen anything like this before in Phoenix.  And Sheriff Joe Arpaio calls back his police from the raids he planned to figure out how to deal with this action.  The demonstrators from the Wells Fargo intersection are held in the vans because they cannot be received at the county jail.

I am asked to go to the county jail to support this action.  I walk over with Salvador Reza and I have a moment to get to know this man who has inspired and led his people to resist the heat wave of hate that has moved across Arizona.  When I arrive there is only a handful of supporters there within the hour, our numbers grow into the hundreds.  Rev. Peter Morales, president of our association and Salvador Reza join the human chain by standing behind them.  Another group of clergy link arms in front of the chain.  We are chanting, we are singing.  And we wait for Arpaio to make his move.  At one point police officers come out in regular uniforms and assess the situation up close.  Then they go back inside.

We wait.  We know that something will happen. The doors behind the human chain open, Rev. Peter Morales and Salvador Reza are arrested first.   Then police in full riot gear and weapons come out, cut the chain links on either side and dragged the human chain inside.  The clergy who are sitting in front of them are also picked up and dragged inside.  A legal observer and a reporter are swept up in the arrests; they tried to get out of the way and had no place to go.  A barricade of officers with riot gear and clear plastic shields march out and push the crowds away from the entrance.  They stand there for what seemed like 15 minutes or so and then back up and enter the jail, closing the doors.  In total 83 people were arrested, 29 of them were Unitarian Universalists.

Later that night, I join in a vigil outside of the county jail. We are singing songs in English and in Spanish and banging drums.  We hope our friends in the jail can hear that there are people outside in support.  I later hear that some of them were able to hear us and spread the word that we were there.

The following day, after all of our people are released, we gather at Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Chandler, AZ.  We are participating in a Taize service and a ritual of gratefulness is in progress.  UUA Moderator, Gini Coulter comes up to the microphone and stands in silence.  Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray comes up and announces that Salvador Reza, the leader of the Puente organization has been arrested again for the second time.  This time falsely.  He was observing an action taking place outside of Tent City; Arpaio’s make shift jail.  We are asked to join them in vigil at Tent City until his release.

Salvador Reza was placed in a van for two hours with the outside temperatures of over 105 degrees.  The van was not running.  This amounts to torture.

We gather at Tent City to sing, to pray, to stand.  One of the songs Unitarian Universalists are singing is “Siyahamba, We are Marching.”  We are singing the English words –We are marching in the light of God–and next to me is a Latino family with a young boy.  He is looking puzzled.  We then sing the Spanish, “Caminando en la luz de Dios” and his eyes light up.  He begins singing along jumping up and down.  He continues singing after the rest of us have finished.

Some of the Puente women have brought bean burritos and carnitas sandwiches and we are all grateful for the meal.  The thankfulness that is expressed in our joining them in this struggle is huge.  There are many words thanking us for our presence.

Tupac Enrique speaks to us about Salvador’s arrest and offers a history of the oppression that has been occurring in the Southwest for centuries.  He states the borders were determined between two governments that did not consider the rights of the native nation that was there first. Because of this he declares SB 1070 an illegal law created by a government that has broken every treaty ever made with the indigenous nations.

I am reminded of the indigenous lacrosse players who were denied use of their native nation’s passports[3] to travel to England earlier this year. Lacrosse a game created by the indigenous people of this country and yet not allowed to play their game in a world competition.

Tupac offers a prayer in his people’s language.  It is a soulful emotional prayer.  I begin to understand in a deeper heartfelt manner that this struggle is not just about immigration rights but rather living and breathing the inherent worth and dignity of every people.

We receive word that Salvador has been transferred to the County Jail and we move our vigil there.  It is clear that this arrest is pure harassment and intimidation.  At the County Jail, we decide to dance in the streets to loud Mexican music to let Sheriff Arpaio know that we will not be intimidated. Even the rain that begins to fall after 1 AM does not deter us from dancing.  There is a picture of me with other Unitarian Universalists dancing a conga line. The police are watching us from the rooftops but no action is taken against us.  At his second arraignment, the judge dismisses the case because there was no probable cause for the arrest.

Prior to going to Arizona, some of my conservative friends on this issue told me that the law could only be enforced for reasonable suspicion that arose in the line of investigating another situation.  I was told that with the judge staying so many parts of the law the reason for my being in Arizona was no longer valid because everything was changed.

Talking with the people in Arizona this is not the case at all.  Employers cannot pick up day laborers along side the road. This reduces the ability for day laborers to get jobs that would enable them to have food on the table or a roof over their family’s head.   Churches could have their vans impounded and drivers arrested for human trafficking should they pick up a parishioner who is undocumented—regardless if the driver was aware of the status or not.  Police can still be sued for being perceived as not enforcing the law.  These components of the law are still in effect. The harassment of people is still occurring.

People are being stopped for minor infractions like a broken taillight and that becomes the reasonable suspicion to detain them for immigration authorities.  Even traffic court cases that were settled become the reason for detaining them.  These examples are pre-passage of SB 1070.  The harassment was going on before this law was enacted.  Once a person is handed over to immigration there is no due process.

One of the leaders of Puente was released from the jail and witnesses saw him get into a waiting van.  The police immediately surrounded the van.  The police were going to arrest him again for violating the conditions of his release because of a meter running out.   This is the sort of thing that is happening in Arizona.  And I was told by several local people that this happens daily just as this sort of thing happened in Alabama in 1963.

It is time for our nation to return to its core values of liberty, equality, and justice for all.  It is time for America to return again to being a nation worthy of its creed of all people being created equal with unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is time for America to “return again, return again, return to the home of your soul.[4]


[1] From an email written by Jose Ballester dated Saturday, August 7, 2010.  Used by permission.

[2] http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/note.php?note_id=426638593187

[3] http://www.manataka.org/page2244.html

[4] “Return Again” words and music by Shlomo Carlebach

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3 Comments

  1. Thank you Fred. Great account of the events. Thank you for being in Phoenix and for supporting the effort. For dancing and singing, and for spreading the word about what is happening in Arizona. Love, Susan

  2. Beautiful, Fred! And thank you… thank you for coming, and for sharing your experience. Your witness is powerful and moving.

  3. I read your article. Your article is absurd. The federal law and state law are the same…only difference is enforcement of the state law occurs. Voice your complaints to Congress…change immigtation laws applicable to all who seek to enter illegally…and then protest if this behavior (enforcing laws) exists.

    To compare treatment of illegals to blacks in the South does a disservice to all who sacrificed to change attitudes in the South.

    Be ashamed.


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