No, No, Janet
Like a bowl of granola laced with prune bits, I know I am supposed to like Janet Napolitano. But, damn, it's a dry chew.
Here in Arizona, amongst a certain crowd that came of age during the civil rights and Vietnam protests, it is gospel that Napolitano must be our next attorney general.
Certainly women who suspect that political incompetence and venality are, somehow, limited to the Y chromosome, expect that any well-intentioned voter will mark an X beside Napolitano's name on the ballot.
I am nothing if not well-intentioned.
And I remember well that Napolitano represented Anita Hill in the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearing for the vacant seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. How one feels about the protagonists in that spectacle explains one's political allegiances. The Anita Hill case is the barbed-wire fence of sexual harassment that cannot be straddled. It is every bit as culturally defining as the ability to remember where you were when Kennedy was shot.
As for myself, I applaud Thomas' electronic lynching in lieu of the public horse whipping he so richly deserved.
For all of her Anita Hill bona-fides, however, Napolitano's real call upon our conscience has been her status as the United States Attorney in Arizona. In a community that still chooses beauty contestants to read us the evening news, Napolitano is the state's most visible example of what a determined woman can achieve. With no husband, boyfriend or children to flatter her campaign literature, her accomplishments are her own.
Yet for all of the progressive aurora borealis that has backlit her campaign for attorney general, Janet Napolitano is a moral anorexic who casts the merest shadow.
Confronted with palpable evil, Janet Napolitano stands for the nearest exit instead of standing on principle.
The racist roundups of Latinos in Chandler by local cops and members of the Border Patrol in the summer of '97 elicited no public response from the top federal prosecutor in the state. When questioned last week by Stephen Montoya, the attorney representing the rousted Hispanics in a $35 million class-action lawsuit, Napolitano suggested lamely that she preferred to work quietly behind the scenes. Then she attacked Montoya for not bringing the matter to her attention sooner.
There was a time when the Justice Department in this country protected minorities from police dogs instead of ducking behind closed doors.
The Chandler incident is not the first time Napolitano has been a meek church mouse on civil rights.
On her last day in office before resigning to run for the attorney general's chair, Napolitano shared the podium with Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the target of a federal investigation by her superiors in Washington, D.C. In a stunning display, she downplayed her own agency's probe of the sheriff, dismissing it as a legal technicality. She provided cover and sustenance for a man with a badge the likes of which the nation has not witnessed since Bull Connor.
Arpaio's jail has made him a national media figure. He is also the target of Amnesty International, federal litigation and mediation aimed at relieving the conditions within the cellblocks, and tens of millions of dollars of inmate lawsuits. Renowned for running a jail that has tortured, crippled and killed prisoners, Arpaio is the single most popular political figure in Arizona with an 80 percent voter-approval rating.
Napolitano knows the numbers. She understands that Mexicans and prisoners are not going to get her elected.
Instead of confronting the evil within her grasp, Napolitano has run for the office of attorney general by boldly opposing telemarketing fraud, therein drawing a clear line between herself and those public officials who support telemarketing fraud.
What is the point of Napolitano's progressive patina if she comforts Sheriff Joe Arpaio while her own Justice Department attempts to control the jailer's savagery?
Federal investigations dating back to 1995 have generated detailed reports documenting the brutality in the Maricopa County Jail. Children have been locked down in solitary confinement, vicious beatings have been administered, stun guns are routinely used (there are allegations that inmates' testicles have been zapped), the extraordinarily excessive use of "restraint chairs" has crippled and killed prisoners. All of this has gone on in holding facilities where 70 percent of the incarcerated are unable to make bond but are presumed innocent.
The sheer number of accounts is staggering.
Because Scott Norberg was the son of a wealthy utility executive who could afford to hire topnotch legal help, his 1996 suffocation death in Arpaio's restraint chair has received considerable media play.
Less well known is the case of Richard Post, first discussed in these pages by Tony Ortega.
A paraplegic who spent a single night incarcerated in 1996 for possession of a gram of marijuana, Post was mauled by Arpaio's jailers. When the deputies denied him a catheter so that he might relieve himself, Post raised hell. Deputies snatched him out of his wheelchair and strapped him into the restraint chair, breaking the prisoner's neck. By the time Post was removed from the chair, he had an ulcerated anus. He was bedridden for months.
After a two-year investigation into jail conditions, the federal government sued the sheriff, demanding reform. Typically accompanying announcement of such a lawsuit is a concurrent agreement that the suit will be dropped once the barbaric conditions change.
But in the joint press conference she held with Arpaio on her last day in office before hitting the campaign trail, Napolitano dismissed the Washington investigation and lawsuit as a "technicality" and a "lawyer's paper."
Sheriff Arpaio, taking his cue from Napolitano's bootlicking posture, ridiculed the lawsuit and the federal investigation, saying that nothing would change in his jails because nothing was wrong.
Since then Napolitano has claimed that the eventual settlement with the sheriff has served as a model around the country for jail reform. Which is almost as funny as it is tragic.
Earlier this month, Sheriff Arpaio appeared on the Today show with Amnesty International's U.S. director, William Schulz. The human-rights organization has been highly critical of the abuses within the sheriff's jail.
Pointing out that Arpaio's jailers had used the restraint chair 600 times in a six-month period while the entire state of Utah had resorted to the primitive device on only three occasions, Schulz said the sheriff had signed an order with the federal authorities agreeing to stop using the chair and stun guns as punishments.
A belligerent Arpaio shot back, "We're still using the restraint chairs, and we're still using stun-gun devices."
You can see why Napolitano is so proud of this model agreement with Sheriff Arpaio.
Janet Napolitano may pull upon the heartstrings of women and progressives because of her gender, but she has proven herself as craven as any man in the pursuit of elective office.
Her go-along to get-along attitude with the barbaric Arpaio is no more disgusting than her disappearance following the outrageous 1997 roundup, intimidation and harassment of brown-skinned people by law enforcement in the East Valley.
Chandler's city fathers have a problem. They have a multimillion-dollar plan to gentrify their dilapidated downtown. But the real estate is ringed by barrios. The redevelopment scheme does not incorporate the Hispanic culture that currently defines the area.
What to do?
City officials claim there is no link between their plans for urban renewal and last year's reign of terror. But don't tell that to residents of Chandler, some of whom were detained repeatedly during a four-day crackdown a year ago July.
Now, I know what some of you are thinking. There go the media again. The very idea of suggesting that a town would target Latinos for removal to make downtown safe for yuppies . . . as if!
But there it is on page 30 of Attorney General Grant Woods' investigative report on the roundup.
". . . the city's focus was to eliminate the problems of aging neighborhoods by improving property maintenance and conducting a general clean up. . . . By the spring of 1997 the focus expanded to include the arrest and deportation of illegal aliens in zones targeted by the city of Chandler for redevelopment."
Just pick up that litter, then get rid of those unsightly wetbacks.
Chandler police alone, and in conjunction with federal Border Patrol agents, stopped, interrogated and arrested several hundred Hispanics in an unconstitutional attempt to run illegal aliens to ground. The cops rousted any Latino they could get their mitts on, including citizens of the United States.
Two weeks later, on August 13, police officials wrote a memorandum to city officials explaining the purge. And covering their behinds.
". . . Border Patrol agents were paired on bicycles with Chandler Police Department bike officers and told to patrol the downtown area of the City. Officers were instructed their contacts should be cordial and professional, as is the norm for Chandler officers. Further, the Border Patrol agent was to be the initiating contact if Border Patrol standard operating procedures were used.
"Chandler officers, who were working in the area and not paired directly with a Border Patrol Agent, were told not to stop individuals purely for immigration purposes and to only stop and contact people for 'cause' (i.e. traffic violations, criminal violations and other types of suspicious activity)."
Here are examples of "the suspicious activity" as cited in Montoya's lawsuit.
"On July 29, 1997, at approximately 11:00 p.m. . . . two Chandler Police officers and several Border Patrol Agents knocked on Mr. (Gerado) Ruiz's door. When Mr. Ruiz answered the door, the Chandler Police Officers entered his home without his permission . . . and searched the premises. . . . After Mr. Ruiz produced proof of his lawful residency, the Police woke up Mr. Ruiz's two children, both of whom are United States citizens."
The cops interrogated the kids regarding their immigration status.
"At approximately 3:00 a.m. . . . Chandler Police officers came to Mr. (Benito) Martinez's apartment and knocked on the door. Mr. Martinez's family was asleep and his wife answered the door. The Officers then proceeded to enter Mr. Martinez's home without permission and without a warrant. . . . For the ostensible purpose of finding a minor child involved in a custody dispute . . . the officers proceeded to search Mr. Martinez's home. . . . The Officers also asked Mr. Martinez and his wife to show them their immigration papers. After Mr. and Mrs. Martinez produced the documents, the Officers left."
Eliseo Correa was also guilty of suspicious activity.
"On July 29, 1997, at approximately 7:30 p.m., Mr. Correa and his cousin went to buy sodas at the Circle K. . . . Before they had a chance to go inside the store, a Chandler Police Officer riding a bicycle ordered Mr. Correa and his cousin to produce immigration documents proving that they were lawfully residing in the United States."
When Correa said his papers were at home, he was promptly arrested and taken to jail, where he remained until his brother arrived with his green card.
Catalina Veloz was born at St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix, and is a citizen of the United States.
On July 29, 1997, Veloz was driving her vehicle in Chandler when a police officer pulled her over and asked, in Spanish, to see her immigration papers.
"When Ms. Veloz informed the Chandler Police Officer in Spanish that she was born in Phoenix, Arizona, he asked her what school she had attended, to which Ms. Veloz replied, 'Mountain View.'
"The Chandler Police Officer continued to demand that Ms. Veloz produce immigration papers. When she was unable to produce them, he opened her car door, pulled her out of the car, turned her around, and put her in handcuffs."
Although Veloz was not taken to the police station, her handling was rough--a stitched wound on her leg from surgery was torn open.
The constitutional violations committed during the roundup are numerous. It is illegal for the police to roust people simply because they look like Mexicans. It is illegal for law enforcement to bang on your door at all hours of the night simply because you have brown skin.
The City of Chandler investigated and cleared itself of any wrongdoing. But the attorney general's lengthy probe concluded that "the Chandler Police Department and INS/Border Patrol violated the Constitutional right of American citizens and legal residents to equal protection and to be free from unlawful searches and seizures."
Janet Napolitano appeared before a minority bar association, Los Abrigados, last week looking for votes by extolling her record on civil rights.
Stephen Montoya challenged her for doing nothing following the Chandler raids.
For the first time in the 15 months since the Chandler raid, Napolitano finally criticized the roundup publicly. She defended her behavior, claiming that she worked quietly behind the scenes by alerting the FBI as well as federal civil rights officials of the Chandler dragnet. Her colleagues at the Justice Department apparently were not overwhelmed with the political capital expended by Napolitano. No civil rights investigation ensued.
Napolitano admitted that she didn't speak out on the issue but dismissed the thought that she should. Then she attacked Montoya.
"Where were you when it happened? You never called me. Did you want me to say something then? I never heard from you."
Following this anticipated confrontation, Napolitano's campaign manager, Mario Diaz, approached Montoya and slapped him with a letter. The note was from a former client of Montoya's. The ex-client and her husband were vividly upset with Montoya and they had shared their thoughts with Napolitano.
This tactic by Napolitano's campaign manager was a sleazy threat. She had appeared before a minority bar association to talk about her track record with minorities, and when she was challenged, Diaz threatened Montoya.
"They were prepared to turn this into a personal attack," said an astounded Montoya.
Reached by phone, Diaz denied that there was anything heavy-handed in his approach.
"I don't have an intimidating bone in my body," said Diaz. "I just gave him the letter as a professional courtesy."
Napolitano wants it both ways. When Joe Arpaio, the most popular politician in Arizona, is the subject of a federal lawsuit for his medieval treatment of prisoners, she is more than happy to take to the microphones to provide cover for the popular sheriff. But when Latinos are rounded up in Chandler like animals at a rodeo, then it is time for behind-the-scenes diplomacy.
Don't tell me about Anita Hill. I don't relish a prosecutor who is morally autistic.
The documented brutalization of the prisoners in Joe Arpaio's jails and the appalling roundup of Chandler's Latino population are the two most outrageous civil rights scandals in Arizona's recent history.
What does it take for Janet Napolitano to stand up?
A black pubic hair on a red Coke can?
Contact Michael Lacey at his online address: email@example.com
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.