The Rev Al Sharpton says he will organise ‘freedom walkers’ in Arizona, just as the civil rights movement had organised freedom riders to board segregated buses in the 1960s. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty Images
Calls grew across the US today for a boycott of Arizona over its new law giving the police the most draconian powers in the country to deal with illegal immigration.
Democratic members of Congress, religious leaders and leftwing activists urged a boycott of hotels, convention centres and other economic targets in the state. At least one nationwide group has responded by cancelling a convention planned for the autumn. Scores of lorry drivers were reported in the US media to have threatened to stop carrying loads to and from the state.
The calls are being made spontaneously by individuals and an array of groups, but leftwing activists predict they will soon coalesce into a single campaign.
The bill, signed into law on Friday, gives police the right to stop anyone “if reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the US”. It has polarised opinion across the US, creating a clear divide between Democrats and Republicans.
In a sign of the passions aroused, cleaning crews were called to the state legislative building this morning to clear swastikas daubed on it overnight.
Opponents of the legislation say it will lead to victimisation of anyone who looks or sounds Latino. Supporters say the legislation is needed because the state can no longer cope with an estimated 450,000 illegal immigrants.
Among those calling for a sweeping boycott was the San Francisco city attorney, Dennis Herrera, who urged city departments to look at contracts with Arizona that could be terminated.
Herrera said: “Arizona has charted an ominous legal course that puts extremist politics before public safety, and betrays our most deeply held American values.”
He noted that a similar boycott 20 years ago, which included the National Football League’s decision to move the Super Bowl from the state, led to Arizona finally dropping its refusal to recognise to Martin Luther King Day.
A Democratic congressman from Arizona, Raúl Grijalva, is also calling for an economic boycott against what he described as “unjust and racist” legislation that will damage Arizona’s prestige and credibility. He was forced to close his office at the weekend after receiving two death threats.
At a rally on Sunday, Grijalva, one of the leading advocates in the US Congress of immigration reform that would offer a route to citizenship for illegal immigrants, called for President Barack Obama to use his executive powers to block the legislation.
Posters were created over the weekend supporting a boycott, including one by the Chicano writer and artist Harry Gamboa headed “Boycott Hate State Arizona”.
The sports editor of the leftwing publication the Nation, Dave Zirin, announced he would no longer write about the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team. “For me, they do not exist. They will continue to not exist in my mind as long as the horribly named ‘Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighbourhoods Act’ remains law in Arizona,” he wrote.
The board of governors of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, based in Washington, ordered its executive to move a convention planned for this autumn from Arizona. The association president, Bernie Wolfsdorf, said: “We cannot in good conscience spend association dollars in a state that dehumanises the people we represent and fight for.”
The Rev Al Sharpton, an advocate of African-American rights, said in New York yesterday he would organise “freedom walkers”, just as the civil rights movement had organised freedom riders to board segregated buses in the 1960s. “We will go to Arizona when this bill goes into effect and walk the streets with people who refuse to give identification and force arrest,” Sharpton said.