Yeah Right of the Day: Arizona Sheriff and Perpetual Racial Profiler Joe Arpaio Says He and His Police Department Are "Against Racial Profiling"
Veteran Arizona lawman Joe Arpaio, self-described as “America’s toughest sheriff,” denied on Tuesday that his deputies targeted people because of the color of their skin in a controversial crackdown on illegal immigration.
Arpaio, sheriff of Arizona’s Maricopa County, was testifying in a class-action lawsuit that will test whether police can target illegal immigrants without racially profiling Hispanic citizens and legal residents.
”I am against anyone racial profiling … today, as in my 50 years in law enforcement,” Arpaio, a veteran lawman who recently turned 80, told the court during cross-examination.
Arpaio was also asked about a news release he issued after a sweep targeting illegal immigrants in 2008, in which he noted criticism from former Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon that his agency went after “brown-skinned people with cracked windshields.”
”We do not arrest people because of the color of their skin,” said Arpaio, speaking in a slightly hoarse voice due to a recent case of influenza.
The plaintiffs’ counsel, Stanley Young, asked Arpaio if he believed illegal immigrants entering Maricopa County had certain appearances and whether this included brown skin color. Arpaio replied: “No.”
The sheriff, who is seeking re-election to a sixth term in November, has been a lightning rod for controversy over his aggressive enforcement of immigration laws in the border state with Mexico, as well as his investigation into the validity of President Barack Obama’s birth certificate.
The suit was brought against Arpaio and his office on behalf of five Hispanic plaintiffs who say they were stopped by deputies because they were Latino, which Arpaio denies.
The trial focuses attention on Arizona, which was in the news last month when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a key element of the state’s crackdown on illegal immigrants requiring police to investigate those they stop and suspect of being in the country illegally.
The Obama administration had challenged the crackdown in court, saying the U.S. Constitution gave the federal government sole authority over immigration policy.
Arpaio faces a separate, broader lawsuit filed by the U.S. Justice Department in May, alleging systematic profiling, sloppy and indifferent police work and a disregard for minority rights.
Protesters from both sides of the debate gathered outside the court toting flags and placards. One read “No Justice, No Peace, No Racist Police.” Another read: “We Support Sheriff Joe” and “Don’t believe the liberal media.”
Phoenix police arrested four protesters for blocking a road outside the courthouse named for former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
AMERICAN DREAM FOR EVERYONE?
The plaintiffs in the suit include the Somos America immigrants’ rights coalition and all Latino drivers stopped by the office since 2007.
Last week, the court heard testimony from two witnesses who said they believed they had been stopped by deputies because they were Hispanic. David Vasquez, 47, testified he felt he was “pulled over for ‘driving while brown.’”
On Tuesday, Young used the five-term sheriff’s previous public statements against him to suggest a pattern of prejudice against Mexicans. He cited a statement at the time of a swine flu outbreak in Mexico, in which Arpaio noted that some illegal immigrants in his custody were from an area south of Mexico City where he said the flu had killed more than 150 people.
”You were associating people from Mexico with disease, is that right?” Young asked Arpaio, to which he replied “No.” He said that he was “concerned” that the detainees “were not coming through checkpoints” on the border.
The court also heard that in a book - “Joe’s Law, America’s Toughest Sheriff Takes on Illegal Immigration, Drugs and Everything Else that Threatens America” - Arpaio wrote all immigrants “exclusive of those from Mexico, hold to certain hopes and truths.” Arpaio attributed the statement to a co-author. When asked if he believed the American Dream was for everyone, he said: “Yes.”
The American Dream refers to the U.S. ideal of prosperity and upward mobility won through hard work.
Young also produced letters from Maricopa County residents urging Arpaio to launch immigration sweeps, including one from a woman complaining of workers at a Sun City McDonald’s restaurant speaking in Spanish.
The court heard how Arpaio instructed his assistant to write a thank you letter to the woman, identified as Gail, and forwarded it to the officer in charge of a forthcoming immigration sweep in the area.
Young asked: “Speaking Spanish isn’t a crime is it?” Arpaio replied: “No it isn’t.” Asked if he told Gail it was no crime, he said he did not.
Another resident wrote to a newspaper saying law enforcement “should be looking for Mexicans … Profiling is …. a valuable tool for law enforcement.” The letter was clipped by Arpaio’s office. The sheriff said he presumed it was archived in an immigration file, “but it doesn’t mean that I agree with it.”
The jury trial before Judge Murray Snow is expected to run until August 2.