Tuesday, November 13, 2007

ARTICLE: Pro-laborer protest continues outside Pruitt's store

Lynh Bui
The Arizona Republic
Nov. 10, 2007 11:19 PM

Their numbers are getting larger, and their chants are getting louder.

For the third weekend in a row, demonstrators rallied Saturday outside an east Phoenix furniture store to boycott the business and protest the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office's arrests of day laborers in the area.

Saturday brought out the largest crowd of protesters in recent weeks, with about 120 demonstrators lining the sidewalk along Thomas Road near 34th Street.

Holding signs with messages like "We are not criminals" and "Arpaio, stop blowing the budget," protesters outside of M.D. Pruitt's furniture store said they are supporting the rights of undocumented immigrants to find work. But Pruitt's owner Roger Sensing and others in the area recently asked the Sheriff's Office for help removing day laborers from the area, saying their presence hampers business.

Despite a significantly larger crowd compared to previous weekends, the protest was more peaceful compared to last week, when Daniel Pochoda, an official of the American Civil Liberties Union, was arrested on charges of trespassing.

As in weeks past, Sensing hired off-duty Sheriff's deputies for security during the protests. He would not say how much he is spending on the off-duty deputies.

Cars driving by on Thomas Road honked their horns supporting protesters, but one driver who apparently didn't appreciate the protestors' views stuck his arm out the window and flipped off the crowd.

Gayla Franks stood nearby to document the protest with a camcorder. Franks said she knows Sensing personally and has been shopping at Pruitt's for the last 20 years.

She used to live in the area but moved because she didn't like the "questionable, unknown characters" standing around the neighborhood.

"I think it's a travesty of justice (that) the people who are not contributing to the improvement of this society can stand . . . in front of a business and intimidate and coerce a business owner because they're mad at the sheriff," Franks said.

Phoenix resident Chris Fleischman said undocumented immigrants are being used as scapegoats for society's problems. He attended the protest to "look out for the weakest among us."

"They came here not because it was fun to risk their life and come across the desert," Fleischman said. "They came here because they had no choice."

Sheriff Joe Arpaiosaid he would continue to support his deputies and enforcing immigration laws. Arpaio said he attended the demonstration to support his deputies.

"They are criminals," Arpaio said of undocumented immigrants and day laborers. When "they cross this border, they are here illegally."

Half way through the demonstration, protesters released seven doves to symbolize the migration of workers to Arizona.

"Human beings have the freedom to move all over the place," said Salvador Reza, protest organizer and a local immigrant rights activist.

Reza said the group plans to protest outside of Pruitt's every Saturday until Christmas.