At least some folks will be well-known out in AZ. Bill Goodykoontz of the Arizona Central tells a story he describes as chilling and provocative. Funny the names that pop out at us from the Grand Canyon State. Meanwhile, theaters in Tempe continue to be sold out.
In 2007, Prince William County in Virginia enacted a policy requiring police officers to question anyone they had probable cause to believe was in the country illegally
That has a familiar ring to it.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer last week signed into law a controversial bill that makes it a state crime to be in the U.S. illegally and requires law-enforcement officers to check the status of anyone they believe is in the country illegally.
Thus, “9500 Liberty,” a provocative documentary from filmmakers Eric Byler and Annabel Park, couldn’t be more timely.
And supporters of the new Arizona law may not like what they see.
Byler and Park chronicle the divisive effect the policy had on Prince William County, as well as its devastating economic impact. Local politicians come off as tools of conservative activists and bloggers, advancing policies for political expediency.
But we’re getting ahead of the story.
Byler and Park began the project as a series of Internet videos. Not wanting to wait the months it would take to edit a feature-length documentary, they began posting video online, where their work gained a following. They continued filming as the drama unfolded.
“9500 Liberty” isn’t much more sophisticated than the YouTube posts from which it sprang. But that works in its favor; it gives the film immediacy, as if we’re watching something urgent unfold. And we are.
The Hispanic population has exploded in the county in recent years. With that growth have come fear and resentment. Greg Letiecqorganized the group Help Save Manassas and created a blog, Black Velvet Bruce Li (bvbl.net), to fight illegal immigration. His detractors accused him of prejudice and racism; his blog, for instance, would sometimes bring up Zapatistas when discussing immigrants.
Meanwhile, with the support of the increasingly influential Letiecq, Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, began building support for the law. After a meeting that lasted more than 12 hours, with both sides arguing passionately – one woman says, “Don’t ever forget 9/11, who is responsible: illegals” – the board passed the measure unanimously.
Police Chief Charlie Deane had told the board that the policy would require millions of dollars to implement – it was passed before the impact could be assessed – and warned of the trouble that the phrase “probable cause” might cause. Now charged with executing the law, Deane eventually is accused of treason, of all things, a development that begins to mobilize opposition to the law.
Deane wanted cameras in police cars, to provide proof that his officers weren’t racially profiling people. This would have required a tax increase, a request the board denied. Later, the board would take up the measure again in an attempt to preserve the policy.
The film takes its name from the address of the former home of Gaudencio Fernandez. The house burned down, but Fernandezleft a wall standing and used it to display signs opposing the law. Park says she considers the wall Fernandez’s version of a blog. Then a real blog opposing Letiecq’s pops up. A measure to remove the words “probable cause” from the language of the law, ensuring that everyone will be checked uniformly only after an arrest, eventually passes the board.
But not before homes are abandoned, friendships are torn, businesses close – not only Hispanic-owned businesses, but all kinds. Economists cite the danger of making an entire element of a population feel unwelcome. In one clip, the filmmakers capture a man taking a picture of a man taking a picture of a Hispanic family. It’s chilling.
What’s most striking here is the genuine mistrust and anger on both sides. As Deane, who comes off as something close to a hero, says, if his department doesn’t have the trust of the entire community, he can’t do his job. And trust seems to be in increasingly short supply.
Bare bones and scruffy, “9500 Liberty” does a nice job of chronicling the passage of a law and its effects on residents of Prince William County.
Every community is different. How the law plays out in Arizona will be determined over the coming months; perhaps filmmakers will document that, as well. At least one person has his eye on it.
That would be Greg Letiecq, who praised the passage of the Arizona law in a post on bvbl.net: “This is going to be one to watch!”
By George, now everyone will know who Greg is, thanks to Mr. Goodykoonz. Regardless of how you feel about the immigration issue, regardless of your feelings about 9500Liberty, the timing was right and Mr. Goodykoonz retells our story fairly well, considering he isn’t from around here.
Yes, Arizona, there is a Virginia. A Prince William County, Virginia. Manassas City residents should be glad to read that they dodged the bullet in this review.