Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Cleaning up the litter

-- by Dave

So the San Diego Minutemen have decided to shine up their civic image by adopting a highway for cleanup:
SAN DIEGO -- The Knights of Columbus have adopted a highway. So have the Japanese American Citizens League, biker groups, Indian casinos and the International House of Pancakes.

Now add the San Diego Minutemen.

Caltrans has granted an Adopt-A-Highway stretch of Interstate 5 to the ardent foes of illegal immigration -- and not just any stretch. The two miles of freeway the Minutemen will be charged with beautifying include the U.S. Border Patrol Checkpoint near San Clemente.

"How great is that," Jeff Schwilk, the group's founder, told his members in an e-mail.

Critics disagreed, saying the California Department of Transportation ignored its own rule that bars groups that advocate violence or discrimination from participating in the program.

"The Adopt-A-Highway program was designed to allow organizations to show pride in the state of California . . . and it is unfortunate that the Minutemen, whose approach . . . includes advocating violence, have been allowed by Caltrans into the program," said Tina Malka, associate director of the San Diego branch of the Anti-Defamation League.

Schwilk denied Friday that his group advocates violence and said no member has ever been arrested for immigrant-related violence.

Actually, at least one San Diego Minuteman (he may not have been a member of Schwilk's specific organization, which is in fact an offshoot group) was in fact arrested and charged after he got violent with day laborers.

This is the same group that tries to intimidate day laborers every weekend of the year:
On Saturday mornings, when they travel to the sleepy suburban gas stations where immigrant day laborers go to find work, they create scenes that would play well in a show called "Nativists Gone Wild." They call immigrants "wetbacks" and "Julios." They pull out Mace and threaten passing motorists who disagree with them. Calling those who hire day laborers "slavemasters," they've been known to slap flashing amber police lights on their SUVs and chase the would-be employers down. When they're not busy physically intimidating migrants, they take to the airwaves and the Internet to accuse them, without a shred of evidence, of running child prostitution rings and practicing "voodoo Santeria rituals."

And let's not forget that sometime members of this group like to make fantasy videos about shooting border crossers in the dead of night with night scopes.

But what the hell. If they want to try cleaning up roads, they should feel free to do so. But Caltrans officials had better be prepared: these adoptions by right-wing vigilante groups don't always work out so well. As we noted when Klan and neo-Nazi groups did likewise elsewhere, there were certain unforeseen consequences:
It's worth noting that court rulings in question only outlaw the banning of a group from these programs based on the content of its beliefs. What it doesn't prohibit is limiting participation based on a group's actual ability to perform the cleanup, as well as the likelihood of its participation becoming an attractive nuisance. Both of these avenues are available to Oregon officials.

Both of these issues, as it happens, have arisen in previous cases where the Klan or other extremist groups sought to participate in roadside-cleanup programs. The first was in the mid-1990s in Arkansas, an experiment that ended badly when the Klan failed to ever perform the promised cleanups.

They perhaps had a good reason not to: the stretch of road that they claimed attracted an unusual amount of garbage. It was as though, for some reason, everyone in the county who had noxious waste (ranging from loads of soiled disposable diapers to animal carcasses) to toss from their pickups chose that stretch of road to do it. Guess they wanted to be sure the Klan had plenty of busy work. But it became something of a public health hazard.

Likewise, in Missouri, the Ku Klux Klan's participation in the Adopt-a-Highway program sharply plummeted shortly after they were admitted. It didn't help, of course, that Missouri renamed the highway after Rosa Parks. Nor did it help that, once again, the road attracted inordinate amounts of garbage.

The signs in Marion County, Oregon, incidentally, only lasted a week.

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