Joe Arpaio's White Crosses: Where Are the Ones for Joe's Victims?

What about a cross for Marty Atencio, Joe?
What about a cross for Marty Atencio, Joe?

I'm not sure which is more obscene: Sheriff Joe Arpaio's grotesque mockery of migrants who've died crossing the Arizona desert, or a compliant and wholly uncritical media's reporting on Joe's latest stunt involving white crosses in the desert.

There's nothing the local idiots in the Fourth Estate like more than a photo op, and Grampa Joe gave them one Thursday, standing before a patch of dirt in Gila Bend with white crosses that he says the MCSO will be putting out as markers of migrant deaths.

Did any of the so-called journalists reporting on this absurdity question why Arpaio was pulling such a stunt the day before a major filing in Melendres v. Arpaio is to be made?

That's the federal civil rights lawsuit wherein Arpaio's been found guilty of racial profiling. Judge G. Murray Snow has ordered the sheriff's office to stop its systemic discrimination against Latinos, and today, both sides in the lawsuit will be submitting suggestions as to how that order will be implemented.

These suggestions will no doubt include a discussion of the most contentious point: whether or not an independent monitor will be appointed to force Arpaio to end his prejudiced policing toward Hispanics.

So 24 hours before this highly-anticipated court filing, Arpaio suddenly is concerned for the dead bodies his deputies sometimes find near Gila Bend?

"Every life is precious," our corrupt crocodile of a sheriff told kowtowing reporters, "no matter where they're coming from and no matter their immigration status."

Really? Arpaio is concerned with human life now? Will he be posting a cross in the empty cell where U.S. Army veteran Marty Atencio was stripped, Tased, beaten and left to die?

How about a cross for Deborah Braillard, the diabetic mom denied her medication until she was so sick she was vomiting and defecating on herself, ultimately falling into a diabetic coma from which she did not emerge?

Not to mention the litany of the others over the past 20 years who have been choked to death by MCSO detention officers, murdered by other prisoners, or died from lack of appropriate health care.

Indeed, were Arpaio to adopt the same policy in his jails as he has near Gila Bend, there wouldn't be enough room for the prisoners.


Then there's the cockamamie plan itself, where the "crosses will be numbered and will be GPS sensitive," according to Arpaio's press release, so as to, "aid those in danger and who call 911 for help."

Uh, does Arpaio plan to post a billboard with instructions in Spanish next to every cross?

And while you're at it, you might want to make those crosses about 20 feet tall and glow in the dark. The desert is kind of a big place, Joe.

Groups such as No More Deaths and Derechos Humanos have been addressing the problem of migrant deaths for years. In demonstrations and protests, they have often used white wooden crosses to symbolize those who have died crossing.

Where was Arpaio's concern for this issue over the past two decades?

And what about Arpaio's own complicity in these deaths? Every time he rounds up kitchen workers and maids, he separates them from their families indefinitely. Over the years, hundreds of these people have been deported. Because their families and lives are here in the United States, and because they cannot come legally, they are forced to -- you guessed it -- risk their lives crossing the Sonoran Desert.

But no such questions are asked. Or if they are, the answers are not reported.

Ever wonder why New Times journos are not given a heads up when Joe's going to pull a stunt like this?

Well, now you know.

This photo op "hits a new low," according to Tucson lawyer and activist Isabel Garcia of Derechos Humanos, who was incensed when I sent her links to press coverage last night.

"After waging a war against the undocumented community, resulting in mass separations of families and particularly in the deportation of people who later attempt to cross the border, Arpaio now wants to cover up his role in the deaths," she said in response.

She continued:

"We have witnessed the effect of brutal policies of not only the federal government but more so of the sheriff's singularly focused, racist assault on the Mexican, Chicano, and Indigenous peoples who have built and continue to enrich our state and our country. How dare he now use the deaths for his benefit!"


No More Deaths spokeswoman Sarah Launius echoed Garcia's outrage.

"Over the past five years." she told me via email, "a remarkable percentage of the border crossers who No More Deaths' volunteers encounter each day are actually long-time residents who have been racially profiled and deported from practices like those of MCSO's crime sweeps and employment raids.

"Every deportee produced through Sheriff Arpaio's practices is a potential future migrant who will die in the desert, a family member desperate to return home at all costs. Beyond erecting crosses, No More Deaths urges the Sheriff to cease his practices that drive this cruel cycle of death and suffering."

Having the MCSO detainees make the crosses is pretty rich, as well. It's the closest Arpaio can get to having them dig their own graves.

The irony is so thick you could lay it on with a trowel, but the media laps it all up from Arpaio's aged hand like it was smeared with foie gras.

Arpaio tells a credulous Arizona Republic reporter that, "This is just one way to try and save some lives."

Fox 10 touts the "Sheriff's plan to save lives."

KFYI's headline reads, "Sheriff angry about deaths in the desert."

A news reader (because that's what she is) for ABC 15 tells viewers that, "Sheriff Joe Arpaio's taking action in hopes of saving some lives."

People often wonder how a character like Joe has been elected six times, despite an encyclopedia of scandals that would put Tammany Hall to shame.

But with a pack of docile news hounds like these at his beck and call, how can he ever lose?

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