Pushing Joe Arpaio to the margins

In this week’s New Yorker there is a great profile of Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona. (Sorry, the full text isn’t online.) Although it contained a lot of stuff I already knew about Arpaio — that he’s virulently racist, sexist, anti-immigrant; that he is dedicated to creating the most inhumane conditions possible in his jails; that he is a major attention whore — it made a few unsettling points really hit home.
Arpaio is popular because he’s hateful. He racially profiles Latinos, his ratings go up. He divides families and goes out of his way to deport peaceful people who are just here to make a living, his ratings go up. He treats jail inmates — some of whom have not even been convicted of a crime — as subhuman, his ratings go up. He sort of functions as a conduit for the worst impulses in our society.
The sheriff also raises a question I think about often: When do we call out hatemongers who are looking for attention, and when do we decide the best course of action is to ignore them? In Arpaio’s case, I think it’s important to call it out — even though what he desires most in the world is more attention. And this is the reason:

Maricopa County is not a modest, out-of-the-way place. It includes Phoenix, covers more than nine thousand square miles, and has a population of nearly four million. Joe Arpaio has been sheriff there since 1993. He has four thousand employees, three thousand volunteer posse members, and an over-worked media-relations unit of five.

In other words, whether we like it or not, he’s powerful. When it comes to the immigration issue, one federal policy that empowers him is the 287(g) provision, which essentially allows local police and sheriffs to act as national-security officials. It is this provision that has enabled Arpaio to turn his law-enforcement unit into a racial-profiling and immigrant-hunting unit. Even when this provision is wielded by non-crackpot sheriffs, Nezua points out,

It’s simply not a good idea to give police, who are (in ideal) in existence to help the community, the powers to enforce the borders of the nation–a job that is normally in the province of the military

Many organizations have called for the repeal of 287(g). However, Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano recently announced she is actually expanding this program, despite some evidence that in 287(g) districts like Arpaio’s, actual crime-fighting is suffering because of the focus on immigrant-hunting. Let’s collectively smack our palms against our foreheads, shall we?
What the New Yorker profile underscored for me is that Arpaio is more than your average Fred Phelps or Pat Buchanan-style hatemonger. He is one of the most popular politicians in Arizona. And, disgustingly, he has built that popularity by doing everything he can to push people who are on the margins of society even further out. Those of us who are fortunate enough to be closer to the center should be doing everything we can to disempower him.

Join the Conversation

  • RMJ

    Even more than Pat Buchanan and the Westboro Baptist Church, this man needs to be cited for his crimes against POC. Pat B and Westboro mostly weild rhetoric and an audience. They do do actual and real harm, but it is mainly waged through words and protests – and they often get as much mockery as they do praise for this. (I’m from Kansas, and my high school, church, and local university were often protested – and they were mostly strongly answered, attacked, and mocked by residents, disempowering and trivializing them).
    This man? Has the LAW on his side, and he can twist it and apply it as he pleases. He can put people in jail. He can break up families. He can meter out punishment in a real way that words cannot reach. That’s why he needs to be disempowered.

  • cattrack2

    Even outside of AZ, and within POC communities this guy is popular. I think the no-nonsense, straight talking, tough on crime approach is popular with looooots of people. People fall for it every day. Its scary how popular this guy is. Even Goebbels might envy his media machine.

  • orestes

    Virulently racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, attention whore…
    Either way, the most credible way to deal with the issue is certainly not being judgemental, especially when considering that not all readers necessarily know this Sheriff-person from before. All that matters to me is what and how much of what he’s done that crosses the limits of our apprehension. Otherwise you might as well just go one step further and turn him into a complete joke which, as in the case of Fred Phelps, wouldn’t necessarily require a great deal of effort.

  • kate s.

    want to read…don’t want to pay…

  • Pantheon

    I just finished reading that. Its a really interesting (slightly long) article. One thing that really hit me was it says a lot (I forget the exact percentage, it may have said “most”) of the people in these jails aren’t even convicted of anything– they’re awaiting trial.

  • JoanOfArc

    The only good reason to live in Phoenix would be to vote against Arpaio.

  • EKSwitaj

    I disagree: when someone abuses other people, being judgmental of them is the credible thing to do. As for the facts of the case, that’s what the link is for.

  • greg713

    What I want to know is what is the problem with the voters of Maricopa County? Do they realize that because of this man in office, they are all cast in a bad light because by voting for him, they are supporting his hateful policies. In Houston, we elected a Latino as our sheriff, as our old, white sheriff was more than just incompetent. It just seems like the people there are proud to have a racist control the police and wear it as a badge of honor. Sheriff Joe is awful, but I also blame the voters of Maricopa County for supporting such a man.

  • cattrack2

    Houston is pretty liberal for the SW. You had a black police chief way back before they were cool!

  • dino83

    Maricopa County’s immigration policies are awful!!! It impacts so many other issues as well. Domestic Violence victims/survivors who are immigrants are suffering because they are getting no protection from Maricopa law enforcement.

  • dino83

    Maricopa County’s immigration policies are awful!!! It impacts so many other issues as well. Domestic Violence victims/survivors who are immigrants are suffering because they are getting no protection from Maricopa law enforcement.

  • fillefantome

    I just got an email forward through a family mailing list in praise of this man and his treatment of prisoners. I was horrified by the descriptions of his methods-which include having inmates living in tents in temperatures reaching 138 degrees. My relative who sent the forward seemed to think it represented “just desserts,” not to mention how dare these people have access to coffee or television or… oxygen, apparently. When hardworking Americans have to work for these things!
    This mailing list was started by and remains dominated by a branch of my extended family (2nd cousins) from the rural midwest, and they regularly send anti-choice, anti-Obama, pro-“the good old days”/family values (i.e., where everyone lived on dirt roads, children respected their elders and there were no gay people or heathens….). It’s like having a direct email connection to Sarah Palin! I’m regularly tempted to respond to these forwards, at least with a polite request that they not be forwarded to the whole family list “as everyone may not share these views”–after all, I don’t regale them with pro-choice, anti-war, pro-environment forwards–but feel as though I don’t have the social capital (as a more distant relative, as someone with a very different educational/geographical background from the majority of them, etc.) to protest. It regularly makes me want to stop reading the mailing list, though I’ve continued in order to keep up with other family news.
    Anyway, sorry about that rant–really just meant to say that I have first-hand (ah, family!) evidence that this man has significant support for his–in my opinion–crazy and inhumane, policies.

  • Lily A

    Glad to see a post about this guy — he represents a lot of the worst xenophobic tendencies in our society. I wouldn’t be so quick to just blame the voters or call them “stupid” or “racist” — the political power machine works in disgusting ways, turning some groups against others in order to exploit people’s fears and make sure that oppressed groups (like say, immigrants and citizens of color, or immigrants and feminists, etc) can’t sympathize with each other in order to work together against oppression.
    Just one reeeaaally picky thing… I was surprised to see this guy described on feministing as an “attention whore.” Since the term “whore” is a disrespectful way of referring to female sex workers, as well as a disparaging way of referring to any woman whose sexual behavior is not deemed appropriate, using this term to refer to a man we don’t like seems to be reinforcing the idea that someone who wants too much attention is somehow reflecting negative feminine qualities.

  • rustyspoons

    I agree too. Call him like you see him. Judgement is an unavoidable human trait, but it can be applied–well, judiciously.
    My mother(who still lives in Phoenix) has told me some appalling things about him from a feminist standpoint. Like the time he arrested prostitutes by lassoing them instead of the regular procedure, demeaning them like cattle. (Unfortunately I can’t find any articles online about this. She saw it on the news at the start of his career.)
    Another thing he’s done, which is extensively documented, is make prison inmates parade around in pink panties to humiliate them. This also makes a correlation between femininity and shaming. Here’s an article from the Free Republic about that:

  • orestes

    Even if being judgemental would be the credible thing to do, as you say, what labels such as “racist”, “hate monger” and “attention whore” tell us is more about the writer than about the “attention whore” himself, as if this article was about the author’s opinion on racism rather than about finding solutions to racism, or as if I, the reader, was too stupid to make my own judgements about the “attention whore”.

  • jeana

    We have chain gangs here in Arizona, with prisoners wearing black and white striped suits like in the olden days.
    Taxpayers here have had to pay lots of money (I’ve read in the millions) from lawsuits stemming from his abuses.
    He lost one case where he videotaped arrested, partially-dressed females going to the bathroom. Then he put it on his website and got 6 million hits in a few days. He said nothing was in the ruling that prevents him from doing the same thing to convicted females, although I don’t think he has yet. He’s a real jerk.
    And although he has a lot of support here in Arizona, he has a very large amount of haters. Either you love him or you despise him. Not everyone here in AZ is an idiot, although it may seem that way sometimes.

  • Jennifer

    Credit goes to newslinx.org for providing the full article: