Thursday, February 11, 2010

Joe Arpaio and the ACLU of Arizona

by Pa Rock
Maricopa County Registered Voter

Joe Arpaio has been the sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, for eighteen years. When he runs for his sixth term in 2012, the geriatric lawman will be eighty-years-old. Arpaio, who styles himself as "the toughest sheriff in America," never misses an opportunity to grab a headline. Lately, however, not all of the headlines in Sand Land have been drooling over his machismo. In fact, Old Joe is being investigated by the Feds, threatened with eviction from his swanky offices atop the Wells Fargo Building in downtown Phoenix, derided by thousands of protesters led by Linda Ronstadt, and rapidly slipping from deification to ridicule.

Many of those in positions of authority who have dared to speak out against the sheriff have found themselves being intimidated with deputies parked outside of their homes, or, worse yet, becoming targets of criminal investigations.

And it's not just the powerful who suffer the wrath of Arpaio, the county's poor Hispanics find themselves being racially profiled by the lawman and his deputies. Arpaio learned early on that there is a great deal of racial resentment toward much of Arizona's Hispanic community, and he focused on rounding up "illegals" through well publicized immigration "sweeps" throughout various communities in the county. Catching a few (often very few) illegal border-crossers resulted in much more publicity than doing the mundane tasks often associated with county law enforcement - such as serving the backlog of over 40,000 warrants that are awaiting delivery.

Our sheriff makes the news literally every day, and he turns up in national and international news on a fairly regular basis also. For a while he even had his own television reality show. And while Joe Arpaio may not be the super lawman that he believes himself to be, he is a super showman with an impeccable sense of knowing where the cameras are located. Last November, for example, he showed up at a Joe Biden event in Phoenix, uninvited, goosed his way to the front of the crowd, shook hands with the veep, and then immodestly tweeted: "Just got done meeting with the Vice President of the United States."

This evening I received an appeal for funds from the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona. The letter focused on the work of the ACLU with regard to our esteemed sheriff. The ACLU is a protector of the United States Constitution, particularly the first ten amendments, more commonly known as the Bill of Rights. It is within those ten amendments that our civil liberties reside.

The ACLU of Arizona had this to say regarding Sheriff Arpaio:

"As the elected sheriff of Maricopa County, Sheriff Joe Arpaio is legally and morally obligated to abide by the rule of law. He doesn't have the luxury - despite his actions and statements in the press - of picking and choosing which portions of the Constitution to uphold or ignore when they don't fit his political agenda.

"That's precisely why the ACLU has taken on Sheriff Arpaio. We act on the principle that no one is above the law."

The letter continued that "fifty percent of the ACLU of Arizona's legal efforts are devoted to challenging the prejudicial practices and policies coming out of Sheriff Arpaio's office." Current lawsuits in which the ACLU is involved include those aimed at ending racial profiling by the sheriff's department, improving jail conditions and medical care for prisoners, stopping illegal arrests and detentions, ensuring medical care for women in the county's jails, and ending discrimination against Muslims by the sheriff's department.

Joe Arpaio's margin of winning has gone down with each election, but he still has legions enthusiastic supporters who buy into his tough talk and posturing - particularly the retired people who swarm into Phoenix like biblical plagues of locusts and get off on seeing someone who is in their age range wielding unchecked and deadly power. To them he is a hero.

To the rest of us he is not.

Donations to the ACLU of Arizona may be mailed to P.O. Box 17148, Phoenix, AZ 85011. My check is in the mail.

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