Days prior to his agency's immigration raid on a Tempe clothing company, Sheriff Joe Arpaio was meeting with scores of Latino pastors in a get-together brokered by Phoenix City Councilman Michael Nowakowski.
Arpaio himself first revealed this PR coup via Twitter on Monday, the same day as the meeting. On Thursday, local Spanish-language tabloid Prensa Hispana ran a photo large of the sheriff and the pastors with the headline "Oran por un Cambio," or "Praying for a Change," along with an "exclusiva" report on the summit.
Then, Friday, MCSO deputies raided Sportex Apparel, arresting 27 employees, 23 of them on suspicion of identity theft, meaning that likely those 23 are Hispanic, perhaps some members of these pastors' congregations.
Reached Friday evening via phone, Councilman Nowakowski was unaware of the raid, the 71st in Arpaio's long line of immigrant-hunting operations.
He explained that his smiling face can be seen in the photo because he was asked by the pastors to arrange the kaffeeklatsch in time for the group's regular monthly meeting on the 12th floor of Phoenix City Hall.
"[Arpaio] did mention there was going to be a raid this week," Nowakowski related, "but that it wasn't going to be in the city of Phoenix."
The meeting lasted two hours, according to Nowakowski, with around 60 people in attendance, mostly pastors and their family members. Arpaio reportedly showed up after the group had a similar meeting with Phoenix Police Chief Daniel Garcia.
But of course, the meeting with Garcia was not front page news.
Nowakowski stated that the pastors told Arpaio about their parishioners, the very people Arpaio has been terrorizing for years.
"They asked him why he continues doing these raids," Nowakowski said. "He said what he's doing is following up on calls that he gets. He says that he gets thousands of calls on his hotline, and that he investigates those calls and it takes anywhere from six months to a year...And that a majority of calls are from Hispanics."
I asked Nowakowski, who is also executive vice president of the Cesar Chavez Foundation's Radio Campesina network, what could possibly be achieved by kibbutzing with a monster like Arpaio.
"It's the beginning of a dialogue," he said. "And as long as there is no dialogue, I don't believe there's a way of changing the way the sheriff thinks or acts. The pastors believe that through conversation and prayer they'll be able to do that."
Alas, that is a highly naive sentiment. Arpaio is 80 years old, and has been in office for 20 years. If you're expecting him to find Jesus at this late stage, I've got some farmland in the middle of the Pacific Ocean I'd like to sell you.
Many of the Hispanic leaders I know are incensed by the Prensa Hispana story, one of them being Phoenix civil rights leader Sal Reza, who yesterday was with the weeping families of those nabbed in the Sportex raid. He responded to Nowakowski's notion of a "dialogue" with Arpaio.
"A lot of Jewish people during the Third Reich believed that they could talk to Hitler and change his mind," he said. "In the end, they ended up going to the gas chambers.
"Arpaio does not have as much power as Hitler did, but anybody that sits down with Arpaio is making a big mistake. Nothing is going to change his mind. Because Arpaio is intent on making his name as the enforcer of immigration laws. He gets great publicity out of it."
Indeed, to hold such a meeting at this time -- not long after Latinos helped President Obama gain victory, with comprehensive immigration reform now an inevitability, and as the effort is underway to recall Arpaio from office -- seems particularly unwise, especially considering the fear Arpaio continues to inflict on the Latino community.
"Instead of trying to get rid of Arpaio [through the recall]," said Reza, "They're trying to legitimize Arpaio. And they're going to suffer, because the community is going to basically see them as traitors."
It has ever been thus, since the time of the Caesars: divide et impera, divide and conquer, is the way powerful rulers create and maintain their kingdoms.
Arpaio may not be a student of history, but this is one maxim he knows intuitively.
UPDATE 2/11/13 8:18 AM:
The Phoenix civil rights group Tonatierra demands an apology from Nowakowski:
Tonatierra Press Release Contact: Salvador Reza 602 446-9928 Date: February 11, 2013 Phoenix, Aztlan (Where the spirit of truth lives)
What is the question thousands of readers of the Phoenix New Times and The Prensa Hispana, are asking themselves a few days after Sheriff Joe launched Raid 71 against migrant workers in the Sportex garment factory? It is the same question made by Stephen Lemmons of Phoenix New times to Michael Nowakowski. Stephen Lemmons said in his article, "I asked Nowakowski, who is also executive vice president of the Cesar Chavez Foundation's Radio Campesina network, what could possibly be achieved by kibbutzing with a monster like Arpaio."
"It's the beginning of a dialogue," he said. "And as long as there is no dialogue, I don't believe there's a way of changing the way the sheriff thinks or acts."
The problem is, there is no dialogue. It is part of Joe Arpaio's campaign to divide our community now that there is a well-funded and highly visible campaign to recall him. Michael Nowakowski, appearance with Joe Arpaio on Twitter and then la Prensa Hispana has impacted negatively on the image of the UFW, the organization founded by Cesar Chavez, and also the Radio Campesina. How can Michael be so naïve to negatively impact the image of Radio Campesina associating it with the image of Joe Arpaio, the most hated tyrant in our community? How can Michael associate the memory of Cesar Chavez with Joe Arpaio? What was he thinking as a representative of the city of Phoenix, chosen by our community, allying himself with the worst enemy of our community?
Members of the Barrio Defense Committees and the victims of Arpaio's raids, some of which are part of our movement, ask Michael Nowakowski if he has seen the tears and the fear of 3 and 4 year old children? If he has talked to the sons and daughters of the workers detained for exercising their human right to work? How can Michael let himself be used by the worst tyrant in Arizona? Is Michael so innocent not to see Arpaio's effort to divide and weaken the recall campaign led by Randy Parraz against Arpaio?
We are ardent admirers of Cesar Chavez and in the memory of Cesar Chavez and our own Gustavo Gutiérrez, we ask Michael to apologize publicly for his indiscretion. As an elected representative, if he wants to continue a relevant political life, he cannot ignore the feelings of the community and thousands of families affected by Joe Arpaio.
It was a disgusting scene to see Joe Arpaio and Michael Nowakowski side by side. Arpaio immediately after the media coup launched Raid number 71 destroying thousands of families. Unfortunately it was the Devil's messenger typical response to Michael and the pastors. Apparently the people meeting with Arpaio have not learned from what happened to Elías Bermúdez when he knelt to Arpaio asking him not deport families? Arpaio answered him derisively, "I am not God for you to kneel before me." It is very clear; the exorcism by 35 evangelical pastors did not work with Joe. It is time to stop playing games with Arpaio and join the recall. Signing the petition to remove Arpaio from office is the only logical responses to his horrible actions.
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