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Phoenix Turns Into a Hurricane of Civil Disobedience After SB 1070 Smack-Down, and the MCSO's Police State Tactics on Parade

Salvador Reza in stripes after his unlawful arrest by an MCSO goon squad.
Stephen Lemons

REZA UNBOWED

On Friday, July 30, in an act of classic retaliation by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, Phoenix civil rights leader Salvador Reza was kidnapped by a pack of armed thugs in the employ of Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

That the men who took Reza into custody were peace officers only makes their abduction of the 58-year-old longtime Arpaio critic that much more egregious. Calling it an "arrest" gives the incident a legitimacy it does not deserve.

Reza, who had been collared the day before during an act of civil disobedience at the Fourth Avenue Jail, had been watching a demonstration taking place at the 35th Avenue entrance to an MCSO facility near Lower Buckeye Road. That's where Arpaio had set up a command post for his most recent Hispanic-hunting dragnet.

In a bold move of defiance, 11 activists spontaneously decided to block the driveway leading in and out of Arpaio's headquarters. MCSO vehicles were prevented from exiting, albeit not for long. And the 11 activists were arrested.

Even the MCSO's "probable cause" statement for Reza's abduction noted that Reza, of the group Puente, was across the four-lane avenue, nowhere near the action.

But that was not far enough away to keep the MCSO from ginning up an excuse to put Reza in cuffs. Sheriff's Office goons blocked traffic, walked across the street, took custody of Reza, and hustled him back to the command post, a political prisoner of the sheriff.

The entire incident was captured on video by local media and by members of Puente. One of the deputies involved had a hand on his gun throughout the episode. The scene resembled something you might have seen in Argentina when a military junta ruled that country and dissidents regularly "disappeared."

Reza was placed in the back of a van, where he was kept for several hours before being transported to Fourth Avenue Jail. At one point, the MCSO opened up the van to display Reza to reporters and photographers, as if he were a just-captured prisoner of war.

"If they can do this to me," he told journalists before refusing interviews, "what do you expect they can do to anybody else?"

At Fourth Avenue, Reza was forced to don stripes and placed in solitary confinement. As with his detention the night before, he was not allowed a phone call — nor was he read his Miranda rights — he told me afterward.

About 150 Reza supporters held a raucous all-night vigil outside the main entrance to the jail. A sound system was set up, blasting everything from cumbia to rock en español as demonstrators chanted and danced, sometimes in the pouring rain.

MCSO detention officers watched the improbable revelry from the roof of the building and from a side entrance. But they did nothing, allowing the dancers to turn the street into an impromptu block party.

When I asked one officer on a smoke break to explain the MCSO's hands-off approach to the gathering, he simply shrugged.

"It's a free country," he said.

I suspect their nonchalance had more to do with a lack of manpower to clear the street. Following Arpaio's sweep, his SWAT team members were probably tucked into bed, chasing illegal dishwashers in their dreams.

Reza's initial appearance before night court Commissioner Julia Lopez occurred about 3:30 a.m. At that point, the county prosecutor made a startling admission concerning the MCSO's probable-cause statement, which alleged that Reza had violated the terms of his release the night before.

Looking at a statement from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, he said, "I did not see that this rose to the level of probable cause."

Lopez agreed, telling the deputy county attorney, "I do not have enough information to find probable cause in this matter, sir."

She declined a request from Reza's attorney, Robert Pastor, to dismiss the bogus charge of "interfering with a judicial proceeding," which covers ignoring a court order.

All the same, she cut Reza loose sans bond and set an August 18 court date.

Reza was released just after sunrise to the elation of the weary crowd outside Fourth Avenue. He explained that, from his vantage point, MCSO Deputy Chief Brian Sands, Arpaio's longtime henchman and a man who would have felt right at home in the old Soviet KGB, was in charge of his arrest.

In the probable-cause statement itself, which you can read on my Feathered Bastard blog, the MCSO contends that Reza violated the terms of his release by coming in contact with one of the officers involved in his July 29 arrest, notoriously unprofessional MCSO SWAT team Captain David Letourneau.

But that lame excuse is belied by the probable-cause statement's observation that Reza was across the street from any MCSO officers. The MCSO initiated contact with Reza, not the other way around.

 

"I think it's going to be a long time before they break me," Reza laughed upon his release. "I was ready to go 18 days . . . That's when the court date is."

(During a press conference four days after the latest arrest, County Attorney Rick Romley agreed with the judge in the case and dropped the charge against Reza.)

Reza has another reason to laugh: the obvious lawsuit he has on his hands for false arrest and imprisonment and the violation of his constitutional rights.

To handle that angle, Reza has retained Stephen Montoya, the dogged Phoenix attorney who represented plaintiffs in the first oral argument over SB 1070 before district court Judge Susan R. Bolton.

Montoya lamented that Arpaio cannot be sued directly. As with all of Arpaio's false arrests and the harassment of his political enemies — not to mention the numerous deaths in his jails — it's the (sigh) taxpayers of Maricopa County who foot the bill.

"God," exclaimed Montoya, "with all the millions of dollars [the county] has spent defending Joe Arpaio and defending judgments against him, we probably could have built . . . five or six schools."

BOLTON'S GAMBIT

If folks thought that Bolton's gutting the key provisions of SB 1070 would throw H2O on the flames of indignation and outrage over the "breathing-while-brown" statute, July 29's demonstrations proved them wrong.

Bolton ripped out the heart of SB 1070: the provision that would have required cops to demand papers of those they had a reasonable suspicion were in the country illegally. This, during any valid stop.

Her July 28 preliminary injunction also put on hold the part of the law that required legal resident aliens to carry their registration docs with them at all times, as well as a provision preventing day laborers here illegally from soliciting business.

Ditto the language mandating an immigration check after every arrest before the arrestee is released.

Governor Jan Brewer's team of pricey legal beagles at the Phoenix firm Snell & Wilmer asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for an expedited hearing on Bolton's injunction. The Ninth Circuit immediately shot that down. Instead, oral arguments in the matter will be heard the first week of November — not in September, as Brewer's attorneys wanted.

Essentially, I was correct when I predicted a couple of weeks ago that the U.S. Department of Justice's lawsuit against SB 1070 would prevail.

Of course, the feds' suit, as well as the six other complaints against 1070 in the system, are ongoing. But Bolton filed her enjoinment in answer to the DOJ's action, and no one should doubt the impact of the federal government's arguing that SB 1070 usurped the feds' supremacy on immigration matters or that it interfered with U.S. foreign policy.

This was also the view of University of Arizona law professor Jack Chin.

"It imposes a certain drama on the situation when the actual State Department says there are foreign policy implications," he told me recently.

He pointed out that, technically, it shouldn't matter who is bringing such a lawsuit. But it does carry more weight when it's the feds complaining that their rights are getting trampled versus a third party saying the same thing.

Concerning Brewer's suggestion that she may call a special session of the Arizona Legislature to "fix" 1070, Chin said that a special session could complicate matters but that Bolton would still retain authority over the case and could alter the injunction if need be.

"This is a case, I hope, where the courts are going to do what they can to come to a decision on the merits," he offered. "That being said, I'm not sure what [the Legislature] can do to fix [1070]. Because the things [in it] were unfixable."

Nevertheless, I wouldn't put it past Brewer and neo-Nazi hugging state Senator Russell Pearce, the chief sponsor of 1070, to throw a monkey wrench into the court proceedings by messing around with the statute, thus forcing Bolton and, perhaps, the Ninth Circuit to re-examine 1070's Frankenstein corpse.

Bolton's edict has enraged right-wingers to threats of outright violence. She was reportedly deluged with incensed correspondence, some of it threatening her safety.

And though the pro-immigrant movement welcomed Bolton's enjoinment, many in it were still angered by the climate of hate in Arizona and the fact that Bolton's injunction didn't cover several troubling provisions.

For instance, local law enforcement agencies still are prohibited from adopting polices that limit the enforcement of federal immigration law. Private citizens can sue those entities if they believe they have.

Also, 1070's "harboring" provision remains in place, and it could affect those rendering humanitarian assistance to illegal aliens, or even offering them a ride.

Day laborers are still on the hook if they impede the flow of traffic when getting picked up by prospective employers, who also can be collared.

 

And as former state Senate majority leader Alfredo Gutierrez reminded me shortly before he was arrested by U.S. Marshals during an act of civil disobedience at the Sandra Day O'Connor U.S. Courthouse on the 29th, nativist pols such as Pearce already are coming up with new ways to torment Latinos.

"The people who proposed this law are still governing us," Gutierrez said. "And they are still at this very moment meeting in some dark cellar, concocting new schemes . . . to oppress our community."

The insidious plot to deprive the children of illegal immigrants their 14th Amendment guarantee of birthright citizenship is one of these schemes.

Recently, someone reminded me of a Malcolm X quote, which is worth recalling and seems to sum up the feelings of many on the pro-immigrant side:

"You don't stick a knife in a man's back nine inches, and then pull it out six inches and say you're making progress."

PHOENIX ON FIRE

I only wish every day in Phoenix could be July 29.

The massive civil disobedience downtown and beyond actually began with a daring stunt a day earlier.

Four activists scaled a massive crane near Jefferson Street and Central Avenue. Two of them dangled from the crane hundreds of feet in the air and unfurled an immense banner that read: "Stop the Hate," with "287g" and "1070" crossed out in circles.

(Note: 287(g) is the federal program that allows local cops to enforce federal immigration law, if their agency has a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.)

The four (plus one who was acting as a liaison to the police) were arrested for trespassing after they came down. Cesar Maxit, one of the daredevil activists, told me following their release that they were all experienced climbers out to make a point.

"We had safety lines," he said. "But immigrants who live in Arizona under SB 1070, and immigrants who live around the country under 287(g), don't have a safety line. So while we had some risks, it's a lot more dangerous being an immigrant in the United States."

The next day, Phoenix became a maelstrom of direct action against 1070 and the United States' immigration laws. Seventy-one people were arrested by the Phoenix Police Department, the MCSO, and U.S. Marshals.

Three were collared at the federal courthouse early in the day in arrests that had been prearranged with authorities. Later, a few hundred protesters took over the block of Washington Street near the Wells Fargo Building, where Arpaio keeps two floors of expensive executive offices.

Cops ordered the crowd to move to the sidewalks. Some decided to hold their ground and be arrested. By day's end, 45 in all were cuffed and taken away by the Phoenix PD.

The remainder were arrested during a protest outside the Fourth Avenue Jail, where six demonstrators had locked their arms together with PVC pipe in a move known in activist circles as the "sleeping dragon."

The MCSO responded with a phalanx of deputies in riot gear. The six, and numerous others, including Sal Reza, were dragged into the giant steel doors of Fourth Avenue Jail's central intake.

As my space is limited here, I suggest you check out my full report of the day's events on my Feathered Bastard blog.

I was particularly impressed with the actions of the many members of the Unitarian Universalist church, some of whom had come from across the country to protest 1070.

The Reverend Susan Frederick-Gray of Phoenix was one of those who'd locked her arms in the sleeping dragon.

"SB 1070 arises out of fear," she told me before she was hauled off by deputies. "I am here on the side of love. Love is more powerful than fear."


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