Jackson: Minorities face 'hostile climate'
The Arizona Republic
Feb. 19, 2005 12:00 AM

Yvonne Wingett

Blacks and Latinos must work together to overcome a "hostile climate" for minorities and the working class, Black civil rights icon Rev. Jesse Jackson said Friday.

Forty years after Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, Blacks and Hispanics still are targeted by voter suppression tactics and both face the same challenges that lead to dead ends, he said in a meeting with The Republic's Editorial Board.

These include: woefully high dropout rates and poor access to capital, health care and affordable housing.

Too many minorities are locked up in the justice system and locked out of corporate boardrooms, politics and education because of it, he said.

"Why is it that in settings (on the baseball diamond and basketball arenas) that Blacks and Hispanics play so well together," said Jackson, in the Valley for a charity fund-raiser to benefit HIV/AIDS victims here and in African nations. "The playing field is even and the rules are public and the goals are clear. All we really need is an even playing field."

The inequality persists at the polls, said Jackson, founder and president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition and longtime advocate for equal voting rights for minorities here and in countries around the world. Jackson, an outspoken critic of President Bush's administration and the war in Iraq, believes widespread voting fraud took place in the presidential election here and drew parallels to Iraq's first democratic election in nearly half a century. Jackson partly blames a hodgepodge of state rules and voting systems for "schemes of massive fraud in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida.

"We are fighting for a democracy in Iraq that we don't have here," said Jackson, who in 1984 and 1988 sought the Democratic presidential nomination. "We have soldiers dying for democracies in Baghdad that they do not have in South Carolina. I long for the day we will have the same civil rights . . . as Iraq."

His focus on voter suppression comes at a time when Proposition 200 critics say Arizona's election laws were pockmarked by the new law. Critics and state elections officials fear the citizenship and identification requirements will discourage legitimate voters and wipe out minority elections in parts of rural Arizona.

Jackson was unfamiliar with Proposition 200, but said anti-illegal immigration-type laws will do nothing to stop immigrants from crossing the border. The "grass-is-greener" mentality will drive them northbound, he said, until Mexico fixes its broken economy and social system.

"They pay taxes and then we deny them benefits. We can't have it both ways," Jackson said.