One of the more dramatic moments of the recent Reform Not Raids Summit in Phoenix occurred on the second day of the national conference on immigration, shortly after moderator Danny Ortega opened up the floor to a volatile debate about whether the Phoenix diocese of the Roman Catholic Church was doing enough locally to combat the prevailing anti-immigrant bigotry here in Sand Land.
A couple of folks rose immediately in defense of the church, mentioning good work it does in this regard and suggesting that more was under way behind the scenes by Bishop Thomas Olmsted, who has refused to publicly take on Sheriff Joe Arpaio as the sheriff's deputies terrorize the immigrant community in Maricopa County and put the fear of Yahweh into Hispanic U.S. citizens, as well.
But then Somos America president Hector Yturralde rose and asked the question that put the onus squarely on the bishop's mitred noggin.
"How many people [here] right now work in the Catholic Church, in the diocese's office?" he asked of those present.
Pause. Crickets chirping.
"No representation," observed Yturralde. "Thank you."
The silence that met Yturralde's query mirrors Olmsted's muteness as Arpaio and his ski-masked 287(g)-trained thugs separate mothers from their children — as in the case of Ciria Lopez-Pacheco in January — and sometimes rough them up to the point of breaking their arms — as in the case of Hispanic hausfrau Maria del Carmen Garcia-Martinez, whose elbow was smashed while in MCSO custody.
Where is Olmsted as the MCSO mistreats his parishioners, breaks up families, and marches chained Hispanic prisoners through the streets like circus critters? Polishing his crosier? Laundering his purple robes?
"Somos America for the last year and a half has tried to get the bishop to make public statements about immigration," Yturralde told the summit's participants, noting that the only response he's gotten is from some of the bishop's flunkies paying him a visit and telling him that Olmsted really is doing something on immigration. Just not where the eye can see.
"As a leader, you have to stand up in public," said Yturralde. "And you have to state where the church — especially where the bishop of the diocese of Phoenix — stands. We have not seen that."
"He stands with Arpaio!" shouted someone in the crowd, to immediate applause.
Indeed, the bishop's relative inaction is in itself a green light to Arpaio, who is Catholic, that the church will not oppose him. Even though almost half of Olmsted's parish is Hispanic. Problem is, it's mostly the right-wing Catholic ofays who drop the most loot in the collection basket. And Olmsted is fearful of doing anything more than writing a letter here and there, talking about how immigrants are people, too, gosh darn it.
On other issues, however, the padre's gloves are off. In the past, he banned then-Governor Janet Napolitano from speaking on church property because she wasn't anti-abortion. During the last election, he campaigned in favor of Prop 102, the gay-marriage ban, going so far as to have a video message played in churches, where he argued against same-sexers' getting hitched.
In his latest dumbass political move, Olmsted blasted the University of Notre Dame president for inviting President Barack Obama to give the commencement address at the private, Roman Catholic college. Obama should be verboten, according to Olmsted and others, because he supports a woman's right to choose, as well as stem cell research.
Thing is, last time I checked, Notre Dame was still just outside frickin' South Bend, Indiana — whereas Joe Arpaio is in the bishop's backyard.
"The bishop doesn't want to get into personalities," the diocese's flack, Jim Dwyer, told me for a column item I did in September on the bishop's failure to protect his flock.
What Dwyer meant to say was, the bishop doesn't want to get into personalities when the personality involved is Joe Arpaio, or even Joe's partner in Hispanic persecutions, County Attorney Andrew Thomas.
Not all Catholic Church muck-a-mucks lack huevos like Olmsted. L.A. Cardinal Roger Mahony has been a two-fisted advocate for the undocumented, even going so far as to march in some pro-immigrant protests. Last year, Rhode Island Bishop Thomas J. Tobin demanded an end to ICE raids in his community. And just recently, Chicago's archbishop, Cardinal Francis George, called on Obama to put immigration reform on the front-burner, and cease all immigration raids.
"There is a darkness cast upon many families living among us who have been caught between the need for cheap labor and badly broken immigration laws," George told the Chicago Sun-Times. "We . . . are called to be that light for those forced onto the shadows."
Maybe the power of his prayer worked some mojo. Not long after George took his stance, the Washington Post reported that Napolitano, now Homeland Security secretary, has ordered a delay in planned ICE raids pending further review.
Yeah, yeah, Olmsted's penned letters to the editor on immigration, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as a group asked for a moratorium on the raids last year. But this doesn't let Olmsted off the hook, particularly when so many Latinos in Maricopa County are Catholic and are suffering under Arpaio's lash.
Often, those here illegally are the most humble and devoted to the Catholic Church, and their children are directly affected by Arpaio's anti-brown policies, edicts that will continue even if Napolitano permanently bans ICE raids.
Just how many deputies does it take to protect Sheriff Joe Arpaio? 50? 100? 200? Yep, when Arpaio returned to Guadalupe to address the town council recently, almost a year after terrorizing the town with his infamous immigration sweep, he brought an overwhelming show of force for protection.
I arrived hours before Joe's showing because I was already hearing rumors that the MCSO was doing an anti-immigrant sweep in town. It may not have been an official sweep, like the one on April 3 and 4 of last year, but (at times) nearly every other car passing through the crossroads of Guadalupe Road and Avenida del Yaqui was a black-and-yellow sheriff's vehicle. A bomb-squad van was parked next to town hall. On a vacant lot at the center of town, a massive mobile command center van was parked, with other sheriff's vehicles nearby.
The display sent a definite message: The sheriff was in town, and the town was locked down. The Guadalupe Mercado, the open-air market near the town hall was empty. One merchant who did not wish to be identified, said business was way down.
"I'm closing up early," he told me. "People are scared, so they're just staying home. This is killing my business."
Inside the town's main building, long before Joe showed up, a team of at least 15 plainclothes MCSO deputies wandered the halls. Behind the building, in the alley leading to the MCSO's substation, as many as 20 marked and unmarked cars were jammed. It was through here, via a passage that leads to the council chambers, that Joe sneaked in to address the council members. And it was back through this alley that he amscrayed afterward.
Before the council meeting, Joe's top PR flack, the gun moll-ish Lisa Allen, was practically running the place, moving things around, telling reporters where to sit or stand. The MCSO had complete control of the facility, scanning everyone who entered the building with metal detectors.
This kind of overkill was the first thing Joe was questioned about after his shuck-and-jive about moving forward and putting the past behind them. Council member Margie Garcia queried Joe on why he needed to bring an invading force to her burg.
"Why did you come to the extreme of bringing the bomb squad, and all this other equipment that you brought here?" she asked before lecturing Arpaio about the town's religious ceremonies. "During this period of 40 days, the people here go into a prayer circle, because it's Lent. This type of thing [you're doing] is very . . . stressful to the community."
Garcia pressed Joe to promise not to bring a similar show of force in the future.
"That's not a promise I'm willing to make," Arpaio responded. "We received intelligence that there would be hundreds of demonstrators here . . . I am responsible for the safety of this town. If I have to bring 200 deputies [and] posse to protect this town, I'm going to do it."
Actually, 200 troops (including posse alter kockers) are exactly what Joe had in Guadalupe that Thursday. There were not nearly that many protesters. I counted about 25 on the side of the nativists, and about 50 to 75 on the anti-Joe side. By 9 p.m., most citizens of Guadalupe were safely in their homes. Those unlucky enough to be out were getting pulled over by MCSO vehicles, almost in a replay of last year.
Not everyone was intimidated. Though the nativists were heavily armed, and had the love of the MCSO, community activist Andrew Sanchez and his family led a small coalition of groups waving signs that said "Stop Unconstitutional Practices," "We R Human," and, my fave, a stencil of Sheriff Joe saying, "I Arrest Pregnant Moms." Guadalupe resident William Robles got in some of the nativists' faces and told them where to go take a leap.
The nativists were mostly the usual scraggly members of United for a Sovereign America, Riders U.S.A., and Riders Against Illegal Aliens. But there were a few new faces. I engaged some of these newbies in civil conversation and explained facts unknown to them, such as: Guadalupe's residents are almost all either Yaqui, of Mexican descent, or some mix of the two — and they are all U.S. citizens whose families have been in the town for generations.
A few were perplexed by this info, including a tall lady named Melissa who claimed she was of Cherokee descent. Hopefully, I gave them something to think about. Ditto for my über-Republican friend Bob Haran, whom I like despite the fact that we both think the other's nuts on the subject of immigration.
Inside the council chambers, reporters may have outnumbered residents. Andrew Sanchez was present when Arpaio showed around 7:30 p.m., and before Arpaio could speak, he rose and yelled that all the council members should walk out on the sheriff. When none of them did, Sanchez, whose family has been retaliated against by Arpaio's men because of Sanchez's activism, left the room, telling the council members, "You know what it takes to get a recall."
(The next day, Sanchez told me that two MCSO deputies went to his house after his appearance at the meeting to serve a warrant on someone who hadn't lived there in two years' time. Sanchez says he believes the MCSO just wanted him to know the deputies could come over whenever they please. This is a continuation of a pattern of harassment detailed in Village Voice Media Executive Editor Michael Lacey's March 19 story "Are Your Papers in Order?")
As for Arpaio, he gave 'em the can't-we-all-just-get-along spiel. He thanked the council for inviting him, even though the invitation had been extended only by Mayor Frankie Montiel, his flunky on the council. Arpaio made at stab at being civil, even slightly conciliatory. Well, at least for Joe.
"Setting politics aside," Arpaio told the council from the podium. "I do understand I might not be the most popular sheriff in town. But we've been here many, many years in Guadalupe . . . In my heart, I cannot leave this town to the mercy of the criminals."
Mighty big of ol' Joe. Especially after he had the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors kill the town's law enforcement contract because ex-Mayor Rebecca Jimenez stood up to him last April. Only after newly installed Mayor Montiel kowtowed to Arpaio, begging him to come back, did Joe agree to have the contract reinstated.
I don't buy the idea that Montiel explored other options yet failed to find a replacement. Several of council members, including former Vice Mayor Roy Perez, have told me they felt other options were never fully explored.
Nor do I think Montiel will seek a replacement for the MCSO now, though the town's $1.2 million law-enforcement contract is set to expire in 2010. Montiel is a die-hard Arpaio supporter, having called the sheriff's 2008 sweep of his town "a good day for law enforcement," as he spoke to the Board of Supervisors last year.
During the council meeting, Montiel was obsequious to the point of making audience members nauseous, coming to Joe's defense, praising him for agreeing to talk to them, and interrupting other council members if they were critical of Joe.
Council members Lupita Avelar, Roy Perez, and Margie Garcia all had tough questions and comments for the sheriff. But it was Jimenez who drew the most blood.
"The optimist in me wants to believe that the olive branch you're extending is for real," Jimenez told Arpaio. "But the realist in me is believing that it's coming up on the one-year anniversary [of Arpaio's 2008 sweep], and now you're under federal investigation, and this is [putting] a positive light on you . . . What do you say to that?"
Joe was caught off-guard. He insisted that his visit to Guadalupe had been finalized long before the announcement of a Justice Department probe. He wallowed for a moment in fit of self-rationalization.
"I know how the federal government operates," stated Arpaio. "I've been saying for a year, come on down. [In] every newscast, [I say] bring the FBI down, bring the feds down. We have nothing to hide. I welcome the federal government. Think I'm concerned about it?"
That's good, Joe, because the DOJ did have an observer from L.A. present Thursday, paying close attention to the horse-and-pony show. Of course, maybe that explains why Joe was on his best behavior, thus proving council member Jimenez's point.
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Three guesses what's new about The Bird. C'mon, you just read the damn thing; can't you figure it out? Sheesh, am I Alex Trebek, here? Okay, I'll give it to you: It's no longer written in Bird-ese. The first-person singular makes its first appearance in my column — at least when not enclosed in quotes.
The column will still be called The Bird. And my blog will still be referred to as Feathered Bastard. Also, despite the absence of phrases like "taloned taliwacker," "winged wordsmith," "plumed penman," I will still be pooping on all those worthy of my excretions. However, I may have to fling them, monkey-style, instead of dropping them from on high.
Why, you may ask, am I ditching the wildly successful third-person conceit? Just time to change the game, folks. Switch things up a bit. Plus, the idiots I'm reaming in print are sometimes too moronic to grok insults issued in Bird language. And believe you me, I want them to understand every word.