Longform

Guadalupe made it clear that Joe Arpaio’s attacking anyone with brown skin

With spirited protesters and helmeted deputies on horseback, the night of April 3 in Guadalupe was like some historical reenactment, albeit in miniature, of a late-'60s anti-war melee. You know, the kind chronicled by Norman Mailer in one of his seminal "non-fiction novels" of the era, such as Miami and the Siege of Chicago or The Armies of the Night.

Granted, no one will ever mistake Guadalupe, a dusty, postage-stamp-size municipality of about 5,500 people for Chicago, Miami, or D.C. And there were only four horsemen that evening, bolstered, though they were, by about 40 more deputies from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office. But as the contingent of gendarmes slowly approached in an attempt to clear the entrance to the Family Dollar parking lot where Sheriff Joe Arpaio's mobile command center had set up camp, there was the feel of something ugly about to go down.

The crowd of about 200 activists and citizens responded to this menace with high-pitched cries: "Yip, yip, yip, yip!" As if on cue, the horses began to buck their riders and neigh and snort, forcing the sheriff's mounties to pull back behind the chain-link fence.

"Those are Mexican horses," someone quipped as folks laughed and cheered. It was but one sign that the two-day anti-immigrant sweep was not proceeding as planned.

Arpaio's forces were meeting resistance outside the Family Dollar store, where demonstrators wielded homemade placards ordering Arpaio off Yaqui tribal land (the town was founded at the turn of the century by Yaquis who had fled the genocide ordered by Mexican dictator Porfirio Díaz) and accusing his deputies of racial profiling.

Workers from immigrant rights organizations like Respect/Respeto shouted in Spanish to people detained by the deputies, telling them they had the right to ask for attorneys. Volunteer observers from Phoenix Copwatch spread out across the town of less than one square mile, monitoring every stop of a motorist for a broken tail light or cracked windshield, watching each questionable citation for offenses such as "improper use of horn."

The stops were a thinly veiled cover by MCSO cops to ask about the immigration status of Guadalupe's almost-entirely brown-skinned population.

The climax of the evening occurred when Guada­lupe Mayor Rebecca Jimenez delivered a press release to Arpaio, demanding that he cease his operation. Just before approaching the county's truculent top cop, Jimenez took counsel from fellow residents on-site. Some advised her that the move would be "political suicide." Others argued that it was the perfect moment to confront Sheriff Joe. Jimenez pondered her options briefly, studying the press release in her hand, then decided to walk over to Arpaio, who was speaking off-camera to a Channel 12 reporter.

"Okay, I'm not interrupting any [televised interview]. I'm just going to say what I need to say and walk away," she recalled thinking. But as soon as she handed him the release and said a few words, "he went off!"

Arpaio was spitting mad, hair out of whack, jabbing his finger at the polite-but-determined public servant before him. He accused Mayor Jimenez of inciting violence against his deputies. She denied this and countered that Arpaio had come into town under false pretenses, that the MCSO press release said "town officials" had asked him in, when that wasn't the case.

"Forget the press release!" fumed Arpaio, adding, "That doesn't matter. Action is what speaks . . . You said you didn't want us back here tomorrow. Is that what you said?"

"Yes," answered Jimenez.

"Well, we will be back here tomorrow," promised Arpaio. "Full force!"

Though Arpaio's troops continued their sweep the next day, going so far as to menace a confirmation ceremony for parish children at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic church that Friday, April 4, Arpaio himself didn't return to Guadalupe. Rather, the county's most powerful law enforcement officer beat a tactical retreat, setting up his mobile command center at the MCSO's Mesa substation on April 4, instead of re-establishing his ad hoc headquarters in the Family Dollar parking lot on Calle Guadalupe. According to an MCSO press release, the withdrawal of the command post was "to allow deputies to work the streets of Guadalupe more than working crowd control."

But a source at Family Dollar suggested the store's corporate HQ had asked Arpaio to withdraw from its property. There was also the fact that then-interim Town Manager Mark Johnson had given the MCSO the verbal okay to use a patch of city property next to the Family Dollar store's blacktop. Presumably, that permission would have been rescinded in the face of opposition from members of the Town Council and the mayor.

Whatever the precise reason, like a sandlot bully faced with actual fisticuffs, Arpaio did slink away. And the backpedaling didn't stop there. Arpaio had previously told reporters that the anti-immigrant sweeps would be weekly events. Just a week earlier, on March 27 and 28, the MCSO caused a near-riot during a two-day sweep headquartered in a parking lot on the northwest corner of Bell and Cave Creek roads. The week before that, Easter weekend, the MCSO had set up at 32nd Street and Thomas Road for a similar operation. The MCSO was on a roll, with Guadalupe becoming the third anti-immigrant sweep in less than a month's time.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons