25 May 2013


Dateline Phoenix, Arizona ~ 24 May 2013 ~ a federal judge ruled that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio "violated the constitutional rights of Latino drivers in his crackdown on illegal immigration,  and ordered him to stop using race as a factor in law enforcement decisions."

Throughout his tenure, Arpaio ~ who calls himself "America's toughest sheriff" ~ has been a lightning rod for controversy.  Inmates in his jail receive two meals a day of contaminated food.  Overflow prisoners are housed in a secured tent city, with no cooling for relief from outdoor temperatures which regularly soar above 100 degrees Farenheit.  (On one July day in 2011 when the temperature in Phoenix hit 118 degrees, the temperature in the tent city was measured at 145 degrees.)

Arpaio is responsible for the re-establishment of chain gangs in Maricopa County, and has repeatedly defended his oppressive policies.  His methods have been criticized by the United States Department of Justice, Amnesty International, the ACLU, and others.

The ruling against Arpaio came "in response to a class-action lawsuit brought by Hispanic drivers that tested whether police can target illegal immigrants without racially profiling U.S. citizens and legal residents of Hispanic origin.  U.S. District Court Judge Murray Snow ruled that the sheriff's policies violated the drivers' constitutional rights and ordered Arpaio's office to cease using race or ancestry as grounds to stop, detain, or hold occupants of vehicles .... [Snow] added that race had factored into which vehicles the deputies decided to stop, and into who they decided to investigate for immigration violations.

" .... Cecilia Wang, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Immigrants' Rights Project and plaintiffs' counsel, called the judge's ruling 'an important victory that will resound far beyond Maricopa County.  Singling people out for traffic stops and detentions simply because they're Latino is illegal and just plain un-American,' Wang said after the ruling was made public.  'Let this be a warning to anyone who hides behind a badge to wage their own private campaign against Latinos or immigrants, that there is no exception in the Constitution for violating people's rights in immigration enforcement.' "

I've been a critic of Arpaio since he was first elected in 1992.  His attitude is that if you make the jail environment miserable enough, no one will re-offend after release.  There is no credible research to support this perception, and plenty of research and court rulings which hold that even society's prisoners retain their essential rights to safety, housing, food, health care, and the assumption of the possibility of reform.  Arpaio's policies are straight out of the Spanish Inquisition.

The infamous tent city resembles nothing so much as a concentration camp in the desert.  It is reprehensible that our nation's jails and prisons are filled to overflowing as a result of the vindictive and misguided "war on drugs".  Adding law enforcement and detention officials who harbor racist attitudes further poisons the mix.  The fact that Arpaio has been elected five times is stark testimony to the repressive nature of Arizona politics.

Which is a shame.  I lived in southern Arizona for twenty years, and many of my best friends live there.  I cannot grasp the meanness which infects reactionary conservatives.  Nor do I wish to.  Thankfully, constructive immigration reform appears imminent in the U.S. congress.  But racism and xenophobia are only two facets in the complex psychosis which rules Joe Arpaio.  He is not fit to hold public office.

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