Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona quickly became one of the most detested men in the United States this year. In the midst of a heated discussion about immigration, Arpaio’s brutal tactics against prisoners and anyone who could be Latino came into the limelight.
Joe Arpaio was Maricopa County Sheriff from 1993-2016. His work at the county jails showed his harsh nature: he limited inmates’ meals to two a day and got rid of salt, pepper, and coffee. He created a “Tent City,” a place where inmates lived in tents and worked, where the Justice Department later found the use of excessive force, including pepper spray and restraint chairs. Unfortunately, he barely got in trouble for inflicting pain and violence on the prisoners, and throughout the years, lawsuits piled up and nothing really happened to Arpaio. He was given a slap on the wrist, but he always managed to continue working. He agreed to settlements to be less harsh on prisoners, for example. The US Attorney at the time later ran for governor with Arpaio’s endorsement. He slithered his way into politics and kept himself safe.
Known as “America’s Toughest Sheriff,” Arpaio spent his career being accused of various crimes, including racial profiling. He supported immigration roundups and supported laws that would let officers pull someone over and conduct traffic stops on reasonable suspicion that the driver and/or passengers were immigrants, based on race alone. He refused to investigate reported sex crimes and was sued for not doing his job to protect victims. If that isn’t bad enough, he violated election laws, misspent money, used excessive force—the list goes on and on. The person who is supposed to enforce laws should not be breaking most of them.
Many people have argued that the situation in Arizona is what the justice system should be like. Arpaio, they argue, was not being forceful or harsh, and that we treat inmates too nicely. I find this a startling and confusing viewpoint; inmates in the United States still have rights. We have a constitution, and we live in a developed country with a justice system that was created to protect all our rights. Use of excessive force on prisoners is a clear violation of their rights. Deciding whether or not someone “looks” like an illegal immigrant: a clear violation of people’s rights. Whether or not you agree with Arpaio’s tactics, he still broke the law. Plain and simple.
How did Arpaio enter the limelight in 2017? This time, his tactics dealing with illegal immigration got him in trouble. (It is almost absurd that it took this long to put him in the spotlight, considering the reprehensible things he has already done). As previously mentioned, Arpaio very much encouraged traffic stops to “find” illegal immigrants. Arpaio encouraged officers to pull over anyone that “looked” like an immigrant, which specifically targeted brown people. In fact, there are reports of Native Americans, the first people to live on US soil before colonization, being mistaken for Latinos who might be illegal immigrants.
In 2007, a traffic stop of a Mexican man with a valid tourist visa led to him being detained for nine hours. After Arpaio was sued, he was told that he could not detain anyone for immigration violations, as that was not his job. Arpaio did not care. He continued to do so, remarking publicly that he would not abide by the judge’s ruling. No, he would instead continue to openly break the law. Certainly, it could be argued that he was doing the right thing, and that he should not have listened. But conservatives regularly cite tightening immigration laws as a way to make people obey the laws of this country. Why is Arpaio an exception, and why does he get to disregard the laws of this country? His obsession with racial profiling and illegal immigration overtook his sense of justice. US District Judge Susan R. Bolton finally sentenced him for criminal contempt of court for continually deciding to enforce immigration laws.
Arpaio, a vocal Trump supporter, was pardoned by President Trump. Trump believed that Arpaio was just doing his job, and that he was keeping Arizona residents safe. Again, Arpaio has a past of breaking the law and using his personal biases to further his agenda. He was not reelected, but 85-year-old Arpaio is—and should be—a hated figure in the United States. His stance on immigration is not only unfair but cruel and illegal. While he did not get the punishment he deserved, he is no longer the sheriff. Oddly enough, the same people who preach being law-abiding citizens supported a man who broke the law several times instead of enforcing it. He hurt thousands and thousands of American citizens, and he should not be applauded for such a gross indifference to the laws of this country that he chose to enforce. This year, former Sheriff Arpaio should be most deserving of your contempt.
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