Arpaio Brings His MCSO Circus to ASU's Cronkite School, and Deputies Admit Destroying Public Records


The ironically dubbed "First Amendment Forum" at ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism concluded as if it were something out of a surrealist film, with Joe Arpaio donning a furry UofA Wilbur the Wildcat hat while being serenaded by a cadre of pro-immigrant rights activists.

The singing of an anti-Joe ditty set to the tune of "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen was the end of civilization as we know it, according to some. A black eye for ASU, editorialized the State Press, ASU's campus newspaper.

The sheriff had been invited to be interrogated by three of the school's most distinguished journalism professors. You know, strait-laced Fourth Estate stuff.

Yet silliness ruled the day, and Joe had to sign off 15 minutes early because of the Freddie Mercury wanna-bes. This, while the journalism profs were leaving verbal welts on the county's buffoonish top cop.

What I think many have forgotten in their rush to condemn the impish act of civil disobedience by a few is that there's a certain carny logic at work with any Joe show. That is, if you invite the circus to town, there will be clowns — one big clown, for sure.

Almost everyone involved got something from this event, even if it wasn't entirely what they wanted. Arpaio got to appear at a distinguished forum and have at it with his haters in the peanut gallery. The journalism dons got to nail Arpaio with some tough questions, proving their mettle. And the anti-Joe activists got to have the final word, off-key though it was.

Indeed, I think you fuddy-duddies out there will swallow the fake outrage if you play the Queen song in your head as you read the following lyrics, given to me by their author, an activist who called herself Stacy, to shield her identity:

Is this legitimate? Is this atrocity? / Caught up in politics. No sense of reality / Open your eyes. Look down to the south and see . . . The border stops brown folks, they cannot cross the line / But it's easy come, easy go, for the rich, n' their cargo / Anyway the migrants flow, doesn't really matter to me / To me.

Stacy, a recent ASU graduate, shrugged off the many people now ticked at her and her accomplices.

"People are [being] criminalized," she said, regarding the plight of the undocumented. "They are 'illegal' because they are intentionally criminalized. Arpaio gets plenty of airtime. And this point of view does not."

She was shocked that she and her fellow activists made it through the entire song without being hauled off.

"I thought they would kick us out immediately," she told me afterward. "But we were able to finish. It had to have been no more than four minutes. I didn't expect Arpaio to decide to leave the stage."

Her musical attack on Arpaio left 100 or more activists ecstatic as they gathered outside on the building's plaza, watching a big-screen TV.

Earlier, a pot-banging, placard-waving, unkempt crew had stormed the Winter Palace, er, Cronkite School lobby, where the local band Haymarket Squares sang anti-Joe ballads. Neither the school's security nor the Phoenix cops moved to eject them. They ejected themselves, ultimately.

After the protests, there was much gnashing of teeth in academe about the musical interruption. Journalism profs Rick Rodriguez, Susan Green, and Steve Elliott had brought up many pertinent issues as they grilled Joe: the selective exclusion of journalists from the sheriff's press conferences; the arrests of Village Voice Media executive editor Michael Lacey and CEO Jim Larkin; threats toward reporters who didn't toe the Joe line; lawsuits over public records . . .

The questioning was appropriately trenchant. Rodriguez, former executive editor of the Sacramento Bee, laid into Arpaio from jump, recounting Arpaio's battles with the news media and his bullying of same.

Arpaio tried to buffalo Rodriguez with pat responses.

"I have an open-door policy," Joe claimed, a line of bunk he's used a billion times before. "All of you can come through the tents, do what you want."

Sure, I thought as I listened, in handcuffs.

Rodriguez was having none of it and asked Joe about his deputies' past threats to arrest reporters.

"What do you mean threaten to arrest?" asked Arpaio, rhetorically. "We're an equal-opportunity law enforcement agency. We arrest anybody who violated the law, whether they're a journalist, or whatever."

Green, Cronkite News Service's broadcast director, hammered Arpaio again and again on his refusal to allow the reporters he doesn't like into media events, pointing out that his "open door" was shut to some.

"I think there may be a reason for [excluding them]," Joe suggested. "Security reasons. There may be some — very few, a couple, two or three here — that use the press conference to sandbag me."

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons

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