Joe Arpaio a "Torturer on U.S. Soil," Says NPR Opinion Piece

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An opinion piece published yesterday on National Public Radio's Web site, written by Hector Sanchez, Director of Policy and Research for the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, calls Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio "a pernicious person," a macho champion of "denigration and mental abuse," and a "torturer on U.S. soil."

Sanchez makes the valuable point that in the current debate on CIA torture of so-called enemy combatants, we should recognize that Arpaio's MCSO is guilty of terrorizing innocent women and children, as well as those unlucky enough to end up in his jails awaiting trial.

"As debate escalates over the CIA's alleged mistreatment of detainees abroad, and evidence continues to pile up," writes Sanchez, "the issue of torture challenges American values. Ironically, a person comes to mind who terrorizes children, women, families and an entire community, but he is doing it right here on U.S. soil. He is on the loose and has been at it for years.

"What's worse is that he has a badge and a gun. A son of immigrants himself, he exploits the issue of undocumented migrant workers to gain national attention and pushes the levels of abuse, denigration, humiliation, physical cruelty and absurdity to new heights. Meet Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County in Arizona -- self-proclaimed `America's toughest sheriff.'"

I'd be tempted say something smart-alecky, like, "Hey, tell me something I don't know," but Sanchez does go on to mention that Joe's been at since he was sworn in as sheriff some 16 years ago. The sheriff's vast incarceration complex is practically a roach motel for humans. They go in healthy, and come out with broken arms, broken jaws, or dead. And that's cost the county $40 million-plus in lawsuits.

Ex-New Times staffer John Dickerson broke down cost of Arpaio's cruelty in his December 18, 2007 cover story "Inhumanity Has a Price." But of course, New Times has been busting out stories on Joe's abuses non-stop for the last decade and a half. In 1996, then editor John Mecklin called up Amnesty International for their comment on Arpaio's misdeeds in his piece, "Barbarism as a Public Relations Strategy." And in 1997, the human rights organization issued its own report denouncing Joe's jails, which columnist (and now Village Voice editor) Tony Ortega detailed in his piece "Human Plights." 

Of course, Joe's jails lost their accreditation last year, the lawsuits continue to come on non-stop, the anti-immigration sweeps and raids continue with the federal government's imprimatur, and Arpaio himself seems just as cantankerous and nefarious as ever at ripe old age of 77.

Not that I don't appreciate Sanchez' scathing assessment of Joe, but the ugliness of Arpaio's rule reflects the ugliness of the tough on crime, anti-immigrant sentiment here in Sand Land. It's part of Maricopa County's dessiccated landscape, a brutal terrain imbued with the stench of corruption.

I have never lived in a place quite like Maricopa County before, and after being here for going on six years now, I'm still at a loss as to how things continue in the manner that they do. Perhaps it takes the near-universal condemnation of the nation and the world to change things, as well as the tireless activism of those not willing to cede the battle to Arpaio. The last, fortunately, we already have.

One cavil with Sanchez's piece: In it, Sanchez states that, "Last week, a number of civil rights groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, sued Arpaio over racial profiling of Latinos in Maricopa County." 

The lawsuit he's mentioning was filed in July of 2008. Technically, that was an amended complaint. The original complaint was filed way back in July of 2007 by the Phoenix law firm Steptoe and Johnson. In the amended complaint the ACLU and MALDEF joined Steptoe and Johnson, and other victims were added to the complaint.

I believe Sanchez may be mixing this up with the lawsuit the ACLU brought last week against Arpaio and some MCSO deputies on behalf of Julio Mora and his father Julian Mora. MALDEF is not part of that lawsuit. Sanchez's article is dated August 27, 2009, and it doesn't appear to be a reprint.  

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