Is this really tolerance?

1 10 2008

I attended a meeting aimed at asking for Steve Bizzell the Sheriff of Johnston County to resign because of the comments that he made. Here are excerpt of his interview:

 Bizzell is a farm boy so steeped in traditional American culture that he won’t even eat spaghetti, much less a taco. Since becoming sheriff a decade ago, he has watched a Hispanic influx change the rural landscape of his home county. Its population is now 11 percent Hispanic. 

These mostly undocumented workers have helped build a new economy, fueling a construction boom and harvesting most of the county’s crops. But some residents of this once insular place see them as a threat, opening Spanish-speaking businesses, crowding hospitals and schools, even monopolizing aisles at Wal-Mart. 

Bizzell has emerged as the face of the backlash. 

But to travel with Bizzell is to understand not only the anger, but also the ambivalence that surrounds an intensifying crackdown on illegal immigrants.

In one breath, he condemns illegal immigrants for “breeding like rabbits” and spreading a culture of drunkenness and violence. In the next, he sympathizes with laborers who know the same calloused-hand work that he did as the son of a farmer. 

One day he says immigrants take American jobs. The next he says there is work for anyone willing to pull his weight. He resents the increasingly Hispanic face of his county, but he acknowledges that immigrant workers have enriched many of his constituents.


Unfortunately his views are shared by a large portion of the US population.


The reality is blurrier.

 Hispanics, a large share of whom are in the country illegally, have been responsible for more than a third of drunken-driving charges in Johnston County in the past five years. In March 2007, Luciano Tellez, an illegal immigrant, sped through a stop sign and killed a Clayton man and his 9-year-old son in a fiery explosion, then sped away. Empty beer cans littered his car.

 But overall, as Johnston’s Hispanic population has grown, its crime rates have fallen. In the past decade, as illegal immigration has surged, Johnston County’s rate of violent crime has dropped by almost half, according to the State Bureau of Investigation. Property crimes are also down.

 In private conversations, Bizzell reveals that his deeper concerns, and those of his constituents, are as much about changing demographics as about crime.

“How long is it going to be until we’re the minority?” he said one night in August, as he drove the darkened streets of Smithfield.


This is the real fear, “How long is it going to be until we’re the minority?”

Are they going to treat us like we treat them? Are we going to lose our power?



 “When people think about illegal Mexicans, you know the first thing they think of?” Bizzell says — “driving drunk and shooting.”

 Across the county, many Johnston natives are looking at immigrants in a new light.

 “They’re not the same as they used to be; they were so polite,” said Sarah Burns, a retired truck driver from Smithfield whose husband once used immigrant labor on his farm. “Now, they’re the rudest people I’ve ever seen. Like at Wal-Mart, they stand right in the middle of the aisle and they won’t move for anything.”

 Jenee Lee, a laid-off factory worker from Four Oaks who was eating barbecue with Burns, added a complaint. “They talk their Spanish so you can’t understand a word they say,” she said. “They get treated better than we do.”

 Bizzell spouts many of the same concerns that are voiced in barbecue joints and country stores about immigrants who take services to which they’re not legally entitled, who have legions of children dependent on welfare. He insists that they pay no taxes, even though records show that many do pay income tax and all pay the state’s sales and property taxes.

 But in quieter moments, he concedes that some of the complaints arise from pettiness.

 “There’s a lot of jealousy,” he said one day. “They’ll say, ‘Mexicans moved into our neighborhood, and they’re driving a Cadillac Escalade. Lord, we worked all our lives and we never had one of those.’ ”

 Bizzell thinks wistfully of a time when he didn’t have to deal with tricky matters of race and culture. He says without reservation that the Johnston County of his youth –where he left his door unlocked and never saw a taco stand — was a better place.

 Back then, most Hispanics in Johnston County were farmworkers passing with the harvest.

“They were all in a group, down a path somewhere in a camp,” Bizzell says. “It was bad for them as human beings. But we didn’t have the problems then that we got now.”


This is amazing, when the “Mexicans” were just the labor workers that worked for us for little money, did what we did not want to do and lived in miserable conditions, that was fine. When they started joining our community, and some of “them” dare have more than we do, well that is unacceptable.

 And of course all Hispanic/Latinos get lumped in the mix; and even some that are neither.

 When these people stopped putting their heads down, and trying to blend in the background, they became visible.

 There is still so much misinformation, stereotypes (“When people think about illegal Mexicans, you know the first thing they think of?” Bizzell says — “driving drunk and shooting.”) and ignorance.

 Then you find that elected officials feed that ignorance and fuel the fire. Are things ever going to change? Should he be fired or asked to resign because of his views?

 Find the entire article here.




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