From Pine View Farm

Driving While Brown, Historical Precedents Dept. 0

Grant Calder, writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer, looks back to a 1813, when Pennsylvania considered a law requiring free blacks to carry their papers with them at all times. If found without their papers, they would be subject to jail and, eventually, being sold into slavery.

Proponents justified the legislation as a protective measure. The United States was at war with the British Empire for a second time, and many white Pennsylvanians feared that in the chaos of the conflict hordes of runaway slaves would head north and seek refuge in the Commonwealth.

Does this sound familiar? It should. A new Arizona law makes the failure to carry immigration documents a crime and provides police officers with broad powers to question and detain any person they suspect might be an illegal alien. If the backers of the so-called Support our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act hold the truths enumerated in the Declaration of Independence to be self-evident, it’s hard to tell.

(The law was defeated, thanks in large part to the efforts of James Forten, a free black who had fought in the Revolutionary War, who is mentioned in the beginning of the column.)

The ease with which bigotry reinvents and rationalizes itself is most impressive.


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