By Paul Teitelbaum
Published Dec 23, 2011 8:43 PM
On Dec. 15, the U.S. Department of Justice released a report confirming the criminal practices of Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his racist department. The report lists the findings of a Civil Rights investigation that began in June 2008 and concludes that the entire Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office violates not only Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act but several constitutional amendments and laws.
Specifically, the Justice Department said that Arpaio engaged in a “pattern of misconduct” in policies and practices that targeted and mistreated Latinos/as. Its tens of thousands of pages of evidence show his department’s rampant racial profiling of Latinos/as with unlawful stops, detentions and arrests and its use of “excessive force” and abuse of Latino/a prisoners.
These findings are not news to anyone who lives in Arizona or is familiar with Arpaio. Since becoming Maricopa County Sheriff in 1992, the sheriff has brutalized detainees at his jails and carried out an ever-increasing terror campaign against immigrants and the Latino/a community. He has been instrumental in stoking the flames of racism and anti-immigrant hostility in Arizona and in supporting the notorious anti-immigrant law SB 1070.
Arpaio has received ample airtime on television and radio to promote his brutal policies and practices. He has been elevated to celebrity status by the capitalist media, even having a short-lived television show on the Fox network in 2008. The A&E cable channel filmed one of his raids for a so-called “reality” TV show. A SWAT team with armored vehicles and a tank carried out the raid.
The beatings and deaths in Arpaio’s jails continue. On Dec. 17, 44-year-old Ernest “Marty” Atencio was brought into the Fourth Avenue jail. He was then beaten and tasered so badly that he is now “brain dead” and on life support at a Phoenix hospital.
In 1995, Scott Norberg was killed by Arpaio’s thugs 15 hours after his arrest. They beat him so badly that his larynx cracked. Although Maricopa County settled a civil suit with Norberg’s family, no action was taken against the guards who ended Norberg’s life.
Norberg’s attorney discovered that important records pertaining to this incident had been destroyed and that Arpaio had actually promoted the guards involved.
In 1996, detainees in the Tent City jail rebelled against their conditions. Temperatures inside the tents climbed to 145 degrees in the summer. Detainees were routinely denied access to adequate food and water. This abusive treatment led to the first Justice Department case against Arpaio, which was quietly settlled in 1998 when federal officials said that he had made the necessary improvements at the jails.
After the immigrant uprising on May Day 2006, the Department of Homeland Security instituted the 287(g) program, which allows local cops and sheriffs’ departments to enforce federal immigration law. Arpaio signed on to 287(g) and declared war on the Latino/a and immigrant community.
In the first year of 287(g), Arpaio was responsible for 25 percent of all deportations resulting from its enforcement nationwide. His highly publicized neighborhood dragnets for undocumented workers and his blatant racial profiling of Latinos/as have been allowed to escalate under the governorships of both Janet Napolitano and Jan Brewer. With the passage of reactionary law SB 1070, Arpaio acted with impunity.
The Justice Department did not just decide out of the blue to investigate Arpaio’s conduct. It is the same Justice Department that serves subpoenas to anti-war and solidarity activists, that indicts Arab Americans in FBI-manufactured “terrorism plots,” and that participates in planning the crackdown on the Occupy movement.
Jason Aragon is a Tucson videographer, activist and member of Migra Patrol, an organization that documents abuses by Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities and border patrols. He has been on the front lines of the struggle against Arpaio. Aragon has spent recent years researching Arpaio and filming for his documentary “Under Arpaio.”
When asked about why the Justice Department investigated Arpaio, Aragon told this writer, “The Justice Department did not decide to do this on its own. They acted in response to the groundswell of community actions and organizing against Arpaio. People risked their lives documenting Arpaio’s [immigration] sweeps and the conditions in his jails.” He explained that Barrio Defense Committees were formed throughout Maricopa County, and people were filming the immigration sweeps. He concluded, “The Justice Department was forced to act.”
This Civil Rights investigation, like its 1996 predecessor, contains no provisions for punishing Arpaio for his cruel and racist practices. Although Homeland Security has terminated the 287(g) program for Arpaio, the report itself contains only a set of recommendations for “reforms” that will correct the “deficiencies” highlighted in it.
Aragon stresses, “Arpaio is in violation of Civil Rights law. He is responsible for abuses and deaths in the jails. He should be indicted for everything that he has done. From the abuses in the jails to the political retaliation against his critics, all the way back to the implementation of Tent City. If the Department of Justice leaves Arpaio in power, it further proves that sheriffs and cops who violate people rights can act with impunity.”
Arpaio is a racist criminal. Even if he did not carry out the abuse and other mistreatment himself, he creates the climate for it and encourages it among his deputies and prison guards. He is responsible for much of the terror wrought upon Arizona’s Latino/a population. Arpaio helped to set the stage for the passage of the ultra-right law SB 1070 and draconian copycat laws like those enacted in Alabama and Georgia. All this has been made possible by the funding and power granted by the federal anti-immigrant 287(g) program.