Between 500 and 600 people marched from the downtown Convention Center to the 4th Avenue Jail, and then to the Maricopa County Sheriff’s headquarters, as part of protest with two demands: that Sheriff Joe Arpaio resign, and that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau agents stay out of the county jail.
The rally was organized by the local grassroots group Puente Arizona, and scheduled to coincide with the annual Netroots Nations conference – the largest progressive gathering in the country. This year’s Netroots Nations convention is being held in Phoenix and focusing on immigration issues.
Rally organizer Francisca Porcha of Puente told New Times that she was hoping for a huge turnout, and it appears her wish came true. Just as the last of the morning clouds burned away, a huge crowd assembled at noon on the west side of the Convention Center. As volunteers handed out extra signs and water bottles, leaders of Puente passed around a bullhorn.
What Sheriff Arpaio does “is not just an immigrant issue; it’s not just a latino issue,” one woman said, causing the crowd to go wild with cheers and claps. “Arizona is a very racist state, and we don’t just experience the fear when we get arrested. We feel the pain everyday psychologically.” When the noise finally settled down, she announced it was time to start marching to the jail.
“Hey, hey. Ho, ho. Sheriff Joe has got to go!”
“Arrest Arpaio, not the people!”
“Shut it down! Shut it down!”
Those were just some of the phrases chanted by the protesters as they brought their rally through downtown Phoenix. Local employees and others on their lunch break came outside to see what all the ruckus was about, and a number of onlookers cheered the crowd on and expressed solidarity with their message. The Phoenix Police Department blocked all vehicular traffic as the group — which extended more than a city block — marched west.
By 12:40, everyone had made it to the jail, and many continued marching around the building while brown-uniformed MCSO agents watched from across the street. After completing a loop, the now very sweaty crowd huddled in patches of shade, and leaders from Puente or other human rights organizations took turns speaking. (Eventually the crowd moved across the street to the MCSO headquarters, which not only provided greater proximity to the sheriff, but also afforded much more shade.)
“Some people walk 1,700 miles to find freedom in this country, and we should welcome them with open arms,” said Tefere Gebre, Executive Vice President of the AFL-CIO, a federation of labor units. “A sheriff is supposed to support you, protect you,” he added. “I didn’t risk my life [to come to the U.S.] to be swept up by Arpaio’s raids.”
In addition to the hundreds of local Phoenicians at the rally, hundreds of Netroot Nations’ attendees from around the country came out to show their support.
“We’ve been hearing about Arpaio for years,” Austin, Texas resident Edward Espinoza tells New Times. “He’s more than just an Arizona disgrace; he’s a national disgrace.”
B. Loewe, who works with the national #Not1More campaign to stop deportations of undocumented migrants, said he was “really happy to see Netroots Nation come to Arizona, and come to protest against Arpaio.” And remember, he added, “Arpaio couldn’t do what he does without ICE, which is why we want [the federal agency] out of our jails.”
ICE has worked with the sheriff’s office for years, and has detained thousands of undocumented individuals on what’s called an ICE or federal hold. An ICE hold means that unlike most people arrested for low-level crimes, who are issued a court date and released, an individual who cannot prove citizenship is either deported or held in a federal detention center for an indeterminate length of time.
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“An end to the suffering our community has suffered under Arpaio starts with him out of office, but continues to clean out his racism that has infected the Sheriff’s department in Maricopa County and across the country like a virus,” said Porchas, organizing director of Puente, in a statement released shortly after the protest. “We need ICE to remove their agents from Arpaio’s jails immediately!”
A one point during the speeches, Alejandra Landeros, whose father was swept up in one of Arpaio’s raids a few years ago, was handed a bullhorn. “We are here today to show Arpaio that we taking the power back,” she told the crowd. “We want justice in our community and for nobody to have to go through what our families have gone through because of what Arpaio does.”