What do you do if a political satirist paints an image of you, which you consider "beyond offensive"?
If you're Sheriff Joe Arpaio, you send it to every reporter in town, and tweet it out to your 63,400 followers.
That's what happened on Friday to an image created by longtime anti-Arpaio activist Rob McElwain, who for years has protested the sheriff's brutality and his racist policies at the corner of First Avenue and Washington Street in downtown Phoenix, in front of the Wells Fargo building, where Arpaio had his office until moving December 2013.
Though Arpaio and his staff now inhabit the MCSO's new headquarters at Jackson Street and 6th Avenue, McElwain remains in front of the Wells Fargo building because more people see him in that highly trafficked area. The MCSO's new location is dullsville by comparison.
Anyway, McElwain has done numerous satirical paintings of Arpaio: as Satan, as Jabba the Hutt (my personal favorite), as a rat being hammered down by federal Judge G. Murray Snow, and so on.
But it was one of his latest, "Political Monsters," which ticked off both Arpaio and the Reverend Jarrett Maupin.
It depicts Maupin and Arpaio locked in a naked embrace, as Maupin asks Arpaio, "May I have this dance?"
To which, Arpaio replies, "Oh, Jarrett, I love to dance."
The painting lampoons a recent press conference the two had, in the aftermath of the tragedy in Charleston, South Carolina, where nine African-American worshippers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church were shot and killed by racist Dylann Roof.
Maupin and Arpaio announced that the MCSO would be "protecting" local black churches from possible copycat shooters. This sparked a backlash in the African-American, Latino and progressive communities, with many denouncing the press conference as a publicity stunt.
McElwain already had posted the image to his Facebook page, but the activist really hit the jackpot when Arpaio's taxpayer-funded PR staff sent out both the image and Maupin's letter of complaint to a slew of local reporters, editors and producers.
The e-mail from MCSO deputy Chris Hegstrom simply said, "Here is a complaint to the City of Phoenix along with a pic of the artwork."
Maupin's letter to Phoenix's Human Relations Commission stated that "freedom of speech has crossed the line" in this instance. He demanded the city take action against this "offensive imagery." He also claimed the image was "homophobic" and "racist," considering what Maupin decried as the "exaggerated lips, nose, and eyes" of the image intended to portray him.
Also on Friday, Arpaio shared a photo of the image with his 63,400 followers on Twitter, with the message, "This sign now on display in downtown Phoenix is beyond offensive. Rev. Maupin & I ask that the City have it removed."
As you can see by the responses Joe got, many Twitter users noted the obvious hypocrisy of Arpaio's sharing an image that he wanted censored with tens of thousands of people. They also observed that, as a sheriff, he is supposed to uphold the U.S. Constitution, which includes the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech.
Thing is, Arpaio has made a career out of violating the rights of the accused, of Latinos in general, and of his critics and opponents. He has been found guilty of racial profiling in federal court, faces possible criminal contempt charges, and is looking forward to a trial beginning August in another civil rights case, brought by the U.S. Department of Justice.
In any case, on the sidewalk, as long he does not obstruct foot traffic, McElwain is allowed to express his political views under the Constitution.
McElwain tells me that from time to time he's been approached by representatives of the city's building department, who remind him not to prop his signs up against parking meters and other city property. He says that the cops generally leave him alone.
"The parking meter people are my worst enemies," McElwain joked.
He seemed amused by the fact he's gotten underneath certain people's skin.
"It's an offensive sign," he conceded. "I'm glad they're offended. It's meant to be offensive."
Because what he's depicting is offensive.
"Arpaio is an out of bounds player," he told me. "The sad part, that someone would come along and participate with them, brings them into it."
Which is why Maupin had to be in the image he created.
He bemoaned the fact that Maupin had allowed Arpaio to gain from the press conference and portray himself as defending people of color.
What about Maupin's argument that the image was racist, homophobic and had exaggerated Maupin's features for effect?
"That never crossed my mind," McElwain said of the homophobia charge. "The pencil image is done in about three minutes before I paint...[It shows] the ridiculousness of the human condition. We're all ridiculous. [Arpaio and Maupin] are ridiculous, I'm ridiculous."
He said the initial idea was of Arpaio and Maupin as "political monsters," dancing cheek to cheek.
Concerning Maupin's charge that his features were exaggerated (a charge I personally find ludicrous), McElwain pointed out that the image was a caricature, and that he's not a professional artist.
"I would ask [Maupin], `How would you like me to portray you?'" he said. "How would you satirically portray yourself?"
McElwain often takes photos of passers-by who stop to hold his cardboard canvases and posts them to Facebook.
Ironically, one of these in the past was none other than Jarrett Maupin.
In a January 2014 post to Facebook by McElwain, Maupin is seen holding a painting of a bloated Sheriff Joe.
The post's caption reads:
Rev Jarrett Maupin associate minister of 1st Institutional Baptist Church says he wishes that the Dept of Justice gets backbone & takes up the case of criminal prosecution of Arpaio. He also said Arpaio is a key link in the community to prison pipeline. That private prisons & investors in Wells Fargo market funds profit from the prison industrial complex
Maupin admits that he's been stung by the criticism of his press conference with Arpaio, and that he was upset with the image of himself and the sheriff, which is why he wrote the letter.
"I'm just glad he captured my good side," he cracked. "That was my first reaction."
He said he was not trying to censor the image, just that he didn't want it to to be leaning or hanging from city property, in violation of city ordinances.
But Maupin seems to have had a change of heart.
He said that he would write an e-mail to the city manager rescinding a complaint he had made to him earlier, and after our discussion, he cc'd me on the e-mail to City Manager Ed Zuercher, wherein he stated, in part:
Your swift response and a conversation sparked in the community has sparked a positive dialogue. In these, at times tense, times misinterpretations and hyper-sensitivity on all sides sometimes results in knee-jerk reactions. Leaders aren't immune to this trend, in fact we are quite possible more inclined to it than others.
In light of said conversations about my complaint and some personal reflections on the wider issue, I'd like to suspend it.
Maupin also said he's had second thoughts about his recent partnership with MCSO on an attempt to protect black churches.
He had his "black civil rights glasses on" at the time, he said, adding that he didn't mean to offend the Latino community and others in doing so.
Maupin pointed out that he is married to a Latina who only recently got her green card and is working on getting her citizenship.
"I do know I made a mistake in letting [Arpaio] be involved in it," he said of the effort, adding, "I didn't think it would take on quite the tone that it did."
He says he also has issues with other law enforcement agencies in the county, but that he realizes that he had been "insensitive as a leader" to bring in Arpaio.
Arpaio vigorously has been courting the black community of late, appearing at black churches and having meetings with black leaders.
My hope is that they will not allow themselves to be played by Arpaio's media machine, which is relentless. Clearly, Arpaio wants to counter the bad publicity he's received from the civil rights case Melendres v. Arpaio. This, as he heads into a re-election campaign in 2016.
Those who play with Arpaio almost always get burned, just as Maupin has been here. The condemnation of the presser has been near-universal. And rightly so. Arpaio must remain isolated as we head toward 2016.
If Maupin and other African-American leaders steer clear of Joe in the future, they will help in this regard.
No doubt Arpaio can be charming, and is capable of schmoozing even his worst enemies.
However, I would remind those tempted to dance with Arpaio of that famous line from French poet Charles Baudelaire:
"The finest trick of the devil is to persuade you that he does not exist."
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Because, in this case, he most certainly does exist.
On Twitter @stephenlemons.
Valley Fever on Twitter: @ValleyFeverPHX.