ACLU: Pardon for Sheriff Joe Would Be 'Presidential Endorsement of Racism'

Donald Trump and Joe Arpaio have been friends for a long time, and friends have each others' backs.

When a federal judge ruled the infamous "toughest sheriff" was found guilty of criminal contempt of court charges at the end of July, the six-term sheriff didn't immediately look to his birther buddy in the White House.

But Sheriff Joe trailblazed the way for Trump's tough-on-immigration platform and was a supporter of his political career from the start. So maybe Trump will show some loyalty to his longtime pal; at least, that's what the president teased in a Fox News interview over the weekend.

While at his club in Bedminster, N.J., Trump told Fox News reporters he was "seriously considering a pardon" and that it might happen as early as this week. While many legal experts say it's unlikely that 85-year-old Arpaio will serve much, if any, of his six-month sentence, the pardon would still be a substantial political statement and Trump's first during his presidency.

The ACLU condemned this in a statement this afternoon.

"Make no mistake: This would be an official presidential endorsement of racism," Cecillia Wang, ACLU deputy legal director, said in the statement.

But some Arpaio admirers were encouraged by the report. They hope the president was listening to them.

Arizonans within the group the United Liberty Coalition were ahead of the curve on the fight to pardon Sheriff Joe. The group organized a letter-writing campaign at the beginning of August in hopes of persuading the president to pardon Arpaio.
For advocates within the Community Advisory Board in the racial profiling case against Arpaio, this response comes as no surprise.

"This effort speaks to the multiple systems of support in place to support racism, racial profiling, and other discriminatory practices," the group said in a statement to the Phoenix New Times. "We have tried to approach our work with a macro and micro view. Yes, we hold Arpaio accountable for being, well, Arpaio, but we are also very aware there are other support systems in place to perpetuate these beliefs and values."

The ACLU created an advisory board to relay other concerns or violations within the sheriff's office since it was ordered by Federal Judge Murray Snow to stop racial profiling. Among the three members appointed to the board was Angeles Maldonado.

Maldonado recognized that Arpaio may not serve time, as he "has illustrated an ability to escape all responsibility." Nevertheless, she said the guilty verdict is still an accomplishment toward ending racial profiling in Arizona and nationally. In moving forward, she said the group will continue to work to reform the sheriff's office.

However, groups like the United Liberty Coalition still present a challenge.

"I'm more concerned with the reality that we have people who fail to see that someone who violated the law they claim to care about deserves to be pardoned," Maldonado said. "It boils down to disguised racism, but in our current environment, the need to even disguise it has gone out the window."

Meanwhile, Arpaio's legal team is still waiting on its appeal to get a jury trial.

"Joe Arpaio is in this for the long haul, and he will continue his fight to vindicate himself, to prove his innocence, and to protect the public," the legal team said in a joint statement.

Arpaio attorney Dennis Wilenchik denied the New Times' request for comment on the Fox News interview.

Arpaio insisting that he is still innocent feels personal for Latino activists like Viridiana Hernandez, the director of the Center for Neighborhood Leadership.

Hernandez uses the word "disgusting" repeatedly while describing Arpaio and his time in office. The only other descriptor she uses more frequently is "racist."

The same goes for the Trump administration.

After the fatal protests in Charlottesville and initial reluctance to denounce white supremacism, this fight against racism feels very similiar to the 24 years Sheriff Joe was in office, she said.

"You have someone like Trump who is allowing and continuing to grow what Arpaio stood for," Hernandez said.

She is hopeful, however.

“There’s comfort in the fact that we've lived through it, we fought back, and we survived," Hernandez said. "That’s the only choice we have.”
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Lindsay Moore