Programming Alert: “Disturbing the Universe” on PBS

Back in December, I noted the new documentary “William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe.” about the famous (or, infamous) civil rights lawyer.  Now, the film is airing on PBS in most areas of the U.S. on Tuesday (6/22/10).  I’m glad to see this film getting a wider audience through its distribution on PBS because I think that it’s a good introduction to thinking about race and institutional racism more critically.

Woven into the narrative about Kunstler’s life and transformation into a civil rights rabblerouser, the film tells a number of other stories.   The film provides a compelling history of the uprising at Attica, where Kunstler negotiated on behalf of the (predominantly black) prisoners.  And, the film also chronicles Kunstler’s involvement in the seige at Wounded Knee where he served as a negotiator for Native Americans in AIM who were staging a protest there, demanding that the U.S. Government honor centuries of broken treaties.   Kunstler was able to help avoid a massacre there and successfully defended Russell Banks and Dennis Banks, two of the leaders of the protest, at their subsequent trial in federal court.   Later, Kunstler defends Yusef Salaam, one of the so-called “Central Park Joggers,” who was exonerated, after being incarcerated for many years.

The filmmakers are Kunstler’s two daughters – Sarah Kunstler and Emily Kunstler – and they do a good job of providing a thoughtful portrait of their father as a passionate but flawed man.  Their film also offers a much needed reminder of what it looks like to do battle against institutionalized racism.

To find the film on your tv-machine, check your local PBS listing and set the DVR.

Ignoring Facts: Crime and Immigration are Decreasing in Arizona

The New York Times has a report (h/t J Cobas) that accents important points about immigration reality, given that craziness seems to be the norm in much debate over immigration–recently and strongly in Arizona. Given all the debates, a reader of the mainstream media would assume crime rates are up in Arizona because of undocumented immigrants (aka human beings trying to survive). The death that José pointed up here of Robert Krentz, the mild-mannered and kind Arizona rancher opposed to immigration, yet willing to help the undocumented, is used by the racist right to stir hostility to undocumented Americans from Mexico. The Times points to an important point that only occasionally gets noticed:

But the rate of violent crime at the border, and indeed across Arizona, has been declining, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as has illegal immigration, according to the Border Patrol. … F.B.I. statistics show that Arizona is relatively safe.

Recognition of that fact about crime—it is declining and lower in Arizona than in US generally—should put a damper on racist hysteria that lies behind much anti-immigrant legislation, in Arizona and beyond.

The decline in undocumented immigrants, one might think, would be factored into efforts at legislation. Why has it been largely ignored in these debates?

The Times, as is its custom too often, tries to provide “balance” to the racist right by accenting the social psychology on “both sides” (it has only two sides?) of the immigration situation:

Judith Gans, who studies immigration at the Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy at the University of Arizona, said that what social psychologists call self-serving perception bias seemed to be at play. Both sides in the immigration debate accept information that confirms their biases, she said, and discard, ignore or rationalize information that does not. There is no better example than the role of crime in Arizona’s tumultuous immigration debate.

Well, actually, there seems to be more ignoring of the information on the anti-immigrant side. (The social science critics of the anti-immigration folks generally have more data supporting their critique, “their side,” I can attest as a researcher in this area.) I also wonder if that anti-immigration perspective getting so much attention could have anything to do with the fact that whites, disproportionately conservative whites, control much of the mainstream print, radio, television media across the country? Immigrants and supporters, as I peruse the mainstream media, get much less say about these matters than anti-immigration folks—including the fringe on the far right. This article itself is an example, given how rare it is in the mainstream media. Indeed, few research experts on undocumented immigration seem to get called for way too many of these mainstream media stories.

There is also the fact that the Times article ignores the structural realities central to these immigration issues. These include the large number of (heavily white) employers in the U.S. Southwest and elsewhere who have actively recruited Mexican workers, now for a modest 100 years. Then there is the reason for most drug smuggling across the U.S.-Mexico border: U.S. citizens consume large amounts of drugs from Mexico. One would think that supply-and-demand thinking that goes with conservative “market” perspectives would pay most attention to “demanders” of Mexican workers and Mexican-source drugs. Yet, the mostly white demanders get remarkably little attention.