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Dozens protest Lakers coach Phil Jackson's comments on Arizona immigration law

May 17, 2010 |  7:19 pm

Several dozen protesters waving signs and American flags demonstrated outside Staples Center before Monday’s Lakers-Phoenix Suns game, calling on Lakers coach Phil Jackson to denounce Arizona’s new anti-illegal immigration law.

Among those at Monday’s protest were 15 Los Angeles High School students brought by their teacher, Rodney Lusain. He teaches history to 10th- and 11-graders and said his classes are currently studying immigration and protest. Lusain said he wanted to bring his students to the demonstration “so they get to see the power of protest.”

Jackson, responding to criticism for his comments about Arizona’s crackdown on illegal immigration, released a statement Monday saying he has “respect” for those who are opposing the law.

“I’ve been involved in a number of progressive political issues over the years and I support those who stand up for their beliefs. It is what makes this country great,” he said in his statement.

“I have respect for those who oppose the new Arizona immigration law, but I am wary of putting entire sports organizations in the middle of political controversies. This was the message of my statement. I know others feel differently, even in the Lakers organization, but it was a personal statement. In this regard, it is my wish that this statement not be used by either side to rally activists.”

Sparking the furor are remarks made by Jackson to ESPN.com columnist J.A. Adande in which the Lakers coach seems to back the Arizona law, which makes it a state crime to lack immigration papers and requires police to determine whether people they stop are in the country illegally.

“Am I crazy, or am I the only one that heard [the Legislature] say, ‘We just took the United States immigration law and adopted it to our state?’ ” Jackson said of the Arizona statute.

The Lakers coach then disputed the columnist’s assertion that the Arizona Legislature had “usurped” federal immigration law -- an allegation widely made by critics who say the law could lead to racial profiling of Latinos.

Supporters say the state law complements federal statutes and deny any intent to target Latinos.

“It’s not usurping” federal law, Jackson replied, adding that the Arizona lawmakers “gave it some teeth to be able to enforce it.”

Jackson, long known as a free spirit who in Adande’s words “has showed lefty leanings in the past,” also seems to chastise the Suns’ management for its criticism of the Arizona law.

--Robert J. Lopez at Staples Center and Patrick J. McDonnell

Photo: Michael Novick of Los Angeles, left, protests with others outside of Staples Center against Lakers coach Phil Jackson's recent comments saying that he wasn't for or against Arizona's newly passed immigration law, gets into a verbal exchange with Mark Steven of Santa Ana, who is in support of the law. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times