PHOENIX - Invoking the image of the civil-rights movement of a half-century ago, the Rev. Al Sharpton promised Wednesday to re-create it in Arizona if a new immigration law takes effect, filling the jails here with protesters engaged in civil disobedience.
Sharpton, in a speech to an overflow crowd at the Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church, said the first effort will be to overturn the law, known as SB 1070, set to take effect on July 29. It requires police to question those who they have reasonable suspicion are illegal immigrants. And opponents of the law are asking President Obama to reassert the federal government's exclusive authority to regulate who can come into the U.S.
"But I want you to know tonight that if those challenges don't stop this law, if the federal government will not intervene … then I want you to know that from all over this country we will bring people into Arizona," he told the crowd just ahead of a candlelight march on the Capitol.
"We will bring them in the spirit of the Freedom Riders," referring to multi-ethnic, religious and racial groups that descended on the South in the segregation era. He said they will walk the streets of Phoenix arm in arm.
"And if you lock up one, you'll have to lock us all up," he said.
Sharpton said the very nature of the law will lead to racial profiling, despite statements by Gov. Jan Brewer and other supporters that is not allowed and will not be tolerated. And he said those who are not Latino should not believe this is not their fight.
"If they do to Latinos today, they'll do it to your group tomorrow," he said. "If you open the door to a double standard for anybody, you open the door to a double standard for everybody."
And Sharpton had a special message for blacks who made up a large part of the audience.
"Let me tell you something: After dark, we all look Mexican riding down the street," he said.
Sharpton specifically chided Brewer, who has said those who criticize the bill have not read it. He said he had. But he said he also has read the Constitution and the Bible, suggesting they trump the statute.
Nor did he believe that, as someone not from Arizona, what is happening here is not his business. "When I came to … one of the spas and get a massage and tan - even though I was already tan - they told me, 'Welcome to Arizona,' " Sharpton said.
"But when I came in today, because they're trying to sanitize and legalize racial profiling, they tell me to mind my own business," he continued. "So let me get this right: If I want to give you my money, I'm welcome."
Brewer press aide Paul Senseman did not return calls seeking a response.