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PHOENIX, Ariz.—Black civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton led a prayer vigil here on Wednesday at which he called for mass civil disobedience against the state’s new anti-immigration law.
Some 2,500 people in the diverse gathering at the Phoenix Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church signed pledges to join Sharpton, who vowed to commit civil disobedience if the law were to take effect.
The law, SB 1070, would make it a state crime for a person to be in Arizona without legal documents. It goes into effect on July 29.
“They are trying to legalize something that will only lead to racial profiling,” said Sharpton.
“We will bring people into Arizona in the spirit of the “freedom rides,” he said, referring to protests of the 1960s civil rights movement against segregation in the south.
Several politicians and community activists spoke during the gathering, including City Council Member Michael Nowakowski and Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox. Bishop Alexis Thomas and Rev. Eric Lee, of the California Southern Christian Leadership Conference, also spoke.
“This is not about immigrants taken out of the streets. This is about who is next,” said Phoenix City Council Member Michael Johnson. The former police officer recently alleged he was the victim of racial profiling.
The event ended with Sharpton leading a nighttime march through the heart of downtown Phoenix that stretched for blocks. The numbers seemed to grow as people joined along. Some stepped out of restaurants to express support or waved from balconies.
Others wore T-shirts that read, “I’m an illegal.” Voices joined in the chant: “El pueblo unido jamás sera vencido,” and “What do we want: justice.”
“I don’t want my parents to have to go back to Mexico,” said Daisy Molina, 13, one of the many young faces in the crowd. “I need them here to support me in my education.”
Sean Artist, 43, held a sign reading, “Stop the Hate.” “I don’t want to be pulled over and sent to Africa,“ he said. Artist, who is African American, said he has many Mexican friends.
“They allowed them to come here and build the country and now they want them out,” he said. “That’s not fair.”
Despite the increased fear caused by the new law several undocumented immigrants decided to join the march. Among them was Catalina Vargas, 67, a former farm worker.
“I’m going to fight as much as I can for legalization,” said Vargas, who marched out front holding an American flag.
Vargas was touched by the words of Sharpton.
“Like what he said, we are all one person," she said. "Regardless of our color or where we come from.”