July 18, 2015

Arrest Arpaio, not the people!

Hundreds of protesters marched from the Phoenix Convention Center to the front of the locked-down jail a quarter of a mile away to protest Sheriff Joe Arpaio's racist and inhumane policies toward Mexicans in Arizona. It was high noon, and Sheriff Joe had locked down the jail in anticipation of our arrival. I suppose he was afraid a bunch of political organizers, bloggers and activists were going to storm the Bastille or something. Or more likely, he was trying to send a message, one that was steadfastly ignored by the masses of people shaking their collective fists at him.

He needn't have worried. The Phoenix City Police were out in force, on their bikes and on the street, politely escorting us from the Convention Center to the jail under our own steam. We were a peaceful bunch -- white, brown, black, gay, straight and above all enthusiastic --content to shout out for Arpaio's arrest in protest of his abuse of people who are lucky to be alive after walking nearly 1700 miles in some of the most inhospitable and dreadful climate to be found anywhere.

The Arizona desert is harsh, the sun unrelenting. After walking that short distance with several hundred of my fellow protesters, this beach hugger was pretty sure she'd turn into the Wicked Witch of the West and melt right there in the street. I cannot imagine the fresh hell inhabitants of Arpaio's tent city experience every day. Still, my enthusiasm wasn't dampened, particularly when I encountered the gentleman in the video at the top, who was part of a tiny contingent of counterprotesters.

"Death to illegals," he shouted. Over and over again. Others in the small band of haters were shouting about veterans, as though there was some magical link between funding veterans' benefits and immigration reform. As though there weren't enough dollars to do both. It was a false equivalence meant to suggest that support for immigrants was unAmerican because it somehow takes away from veterans. Even when that point was rebutted, they clung to it like a magical incantation. All six of them.

A blonde, middle-aged woman seated in her lawn chair under the shade of a building guarding their own protest signs confronted some of us, asking if we had jobs or were simply mooching while protesting. When we asked her whether she had a job, we received a stony silent glare in response.

Our protest was organized by Puente Arizona, a local organization fighting for fair treatment of undocumented immigrants. Their demands are simple and fair: Arpaio must resign, and ICE agents need to leave the jail and stop coordinating with the Maricopa County Sheriff's Department.

As you might expect, Arpaio's response was quite similar to the reactions of the man in the video shouting death to "illegals." He locked down the jail, alerted his pals at Fox News, and ceded to some demands from the Department of Justice to change procedures at the jail in order to avoid a trial on claims of discrimination and abuse.

The tent city still remains, as does his hateful attitude toward immigrants. People like the flag-waving xenophobes confronting us continue to elect him over and over again. Until he is forced to stop racial profiling and his xenophobic practices, Latinos will continue to be discriminated against, treated unfairly and often treated brutally.

Some overall observations: The city police in Phoenix were well-trained, courteous, and prepared for anything. There were no open carry freaks visible that I could see, much to my relief. Finally, the curious onlookers who popped out of office buildings, hotels and stores to see what all the ruckus was seemed to be positive and supportive of the protesters. Other than the flag-wavers waiting to pounce on us from their safe venue on the sidewalk by the jail, it was received with a positive response.

I don't know what it will take to topple Sheriff Joe from his perch, but this seemed like a solid step along the way.

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