In the wake of the former Sheriff Joe Arpaio pardon, most media and political commentators have mainly discussed President Trump’s disrespect of the conviction rendered by a federal court. Alarmingly, there is very little focus on how Trump’s pardon endorses egregious human rights abuses against Latinos committed by Arpaio for decades, which included illegal detentions, humiliation, torture, and wrongful death.
The Maricopa County Medical examiner found 157 deaths (including 39 suicides) between 1996 to 2015 in Arpaio’s lockups and “Tent City” concentration camps — a suicide rate of 24 percent. A 2015 investigation by the Phoenix New Times found that “more than 13,000 claims were filed against the Sheriff’s Office over mistreatment, abuse, and ultimately death.”
Trump’s pardon encourages in chilling terms a playbook of oppression against Latinos. It also serves as a harbinger of what Trump intends for the young DREAMers who have received coverage under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA).The Trump/Arpaio practice of branding and abusing Latinos as criminals sends a very clear message to hate groups that it is open season against Latinos in America.
Trump’s news release about his pardon of criminal Sheriff Joe Arpaio stated: “Throughout his time as Sheriff, Arpaio continued his life’s work of protecting the public from the scourges of crime and illegal immigration.”
Here the Arpaio record of abuse and violence against Latinos that Trump extols with his shameful pardon:
- In 2005, Arpaio’s department frog-marched 700 prisoners in pink underwear and flip flops while segregating 200 Latino prisoners (70 percent convicted of no crime) into a Tent City circled with electric wire.
- In 2008, Arpaio bragged that he was operating a “concentration camp.”
- In July 2011, the temperature in Arpaio’s Tent City was recorded at 145 degrees.
- In 2011, the Los Angeles Times reported that “Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Phoenix-based department repeatedly arrested Latinos illegally, abused them in the county jails and failed to investigate hundreds of sexual assaults,”
- The same Los Angeles Times story reported on a letter issued by U.S. Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez’s (former Labor Secretary and current Chair of the Democratic National Committee) to Arpaio that “described Latinos arrested on unreasonable traffic stops, businesses raided when Latinos gather out front, inmates mocked with racial epithets, and 432 cases of sexual assault and child molestation, often involving Latinos,” that “were not properly investigated over a three-year period.”
- In 2012, a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Justice Department stated:  “The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) and Sheriff Joseph M. Arpaio (Arpaio) have engaged and continue to engage in a pattern or practice of unlawful discriminatory police conduct directed at Latinos.”
- The federal lawsuit further stated:”Latinos in Maricopa County are frequently stopped, detained, and arrested on the basis of race, color, or national origin.”
- It also found the Unconstitutional and unlawful detention of Latino drivers and passengers, because of their race, color, or national origin, to determine immigration status, when there is no lawful basis for the detention.”
- The “Unconstitutional and unlawful targeting of Latino workers and illegal detention of Latinos, because of their race, color, or national origin, during worksite raids.”
The racist branding of Latinos fits into another abusive practice of Arpaio that is consistent with Trump’s branding and persecution of political opponents.
Furthermore, in 2008 Arpaio, using County Attorney Andrew Thomas as his foil, began a series of investigations and prosecutions against his political opponents, including four retired judges, two sitting county supervisors, and one retired county supervisors. These baseless political persecutions resulted in over $45 million being rewarded to the victims, and County Attorney Thomas being disbarred for misconduct.
In total, it has been estimated that Arpaio has, according to one report, cost “$142 million in court costs because of lawsuits from prisoners who died in his jail, the judges and county officials he charged and sued, journalists who had been targeted by his office, and immigrants unlawfully detained.”
And, lest we forget, Trump and Arpaio worked hand in hand on spreading the “Birther” myth about President Obama. On July 18, 2002, Trump tweeted, “Congratulations to @RealSheriffJoe on his successful Cold Case Posse investigation which claims @BarackObama’s ‘birth certificate’ is fake.”
The pardon of criminal Sheriff Arpaio has to be a wakeup call for all Latinos. Given this existential threat to our communities everywhere, here is how Latino community leaders should respond:
First, if you are an elected official, even at the local school board level, immediately introduce a resolution before your elected body censuring President Trump for pardoning Arpaio. (Let’s get over a thousand censure resolutions in the works.)
Second, if you are a Latino nonprofit organization, file a complaint with the International Criminal Court at The Hague against Criminal former Sheriff Arpaio and President Trump for crimes against humanity. Arpaio’s record is rife with incidents of unjust imprisonment, and political and racial oppression resulting in physical injury and death. Trump’s use of his official position to pardon Sheriff Arpaio constitutes a disturbing and unprecedented endorsement of human rights abuses by the so-called leader of the free and civilized world.
Third, we need to demonstrate our vast economic strength by boycotting the biggest symbol of economic power associated with the Trump Administration: Exxon Mobil. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson served as CEO of Exxon Mobil for ten years, 2006 to 2016. Although Tillerson is no longer associated with Exxon Mobil, he was the recipient of a $180 million severance package from the corporation This boycott would send a message that Latino’s will not patronize businesses with strong ties to Trump or the Trump Organization. Consider the fact that many business leaders have already publicly disassociated themselves with Trump in the wake of his tolerant remarks about the Charlottesville racist marchers.
As a community, we must take these and other action steps, we cannot afford to be apathetic and just wait for the next Trump attack. The DREAMers are already in Trump’s sights. Mass racial profiling and family separations in our neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces using Trump’s “deportation force” will likely follow.
Now is the time to make our powerful voices heard. ¡Si se puede!
Jim Gonzalez is a former San Francisco Supervisor and author of the nation’s first sanctuary city ordinance in 1989; He is the Chair of the Latino Policy Coalition based in Sacramento CA. Through his firm, JG & Associates, he is public policy consultant and political strategist for elected and appointed policymakers, private sector leaders, international companies, and non-profit organizations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(This column was taken from the NILP Report. National Institute of Latino Policy is a nonpartisan center established in 1982 in New York City, originally as the Institute for Puerto Rican Policy (IPR). NiLP provides a unique approach and voice to the policy analysis and advocacy needs of the Latino community in the United States.)