Joe Arpaio says one of his "failures" as Maricopa County sheriff was not being able to forge a better relationship with the Latino community, which critics say he targeted during law-enforcement operations.
"There is so much hatred out there against me," Arpaio told New Times in a recent interview. "But I can't change their minds. I can't get to the Hispanic community, which I would love to do. I'd like to have them in my office."
"I just can't get to them," he added. "That's one of my failures. Forget the politics. I'd like to talk to Hispanics and let them know the truth. Once I can, they'll get a different opinion. But how do I do it?"
Even as he prepares to leave office after losing his bid for a seventh term to former Phoenix police sergeant Paul Penzone in November, Arpaio faces a criminal contempt charge for violations of a court order stemming from Melendres v. Arpaio, a landmark civil-rights case in which a federal judge ruled that the sheriff's office was conducting illegal immigration patrols and racially profiling Latinos.
An Arizona Republic/Morrison/Cronkite News poll, conducted in August, showed Arpaio's favorability rating among Hispanics was 24.1 percent.
In an interview with New Times, Latino civil-rights activist Lydia Guzman said Arpaio is to blame for the way many Latinos feel about him. Guzman noted that his office conducted raids in Latino neighborhoods and routinely targeted Latino drivers during traffic stops.
"It's unfortunate that he doesn't see the reality of the big picture," she said. "When you behave in the way that he did, it's hard not to have resentment towards him."
Guzman is a longtime Arpaio critic. Whenever Arpaio conducted workplace raids she'd spend time gathering testimonies of civil-rights abuses and helping the arrestees and their families.
She said Arpaio approached her several times during the raids and asked to meet with her. She refused the offer, saying she didn't think it would lead to any changes.
"The only thing that would've satisfied me was not a meeting, but if he actually changed," Guzman said.
Alfredo Gutierrez, another longtime Arpaio critic and a former Arizona state senator, echoed Guzman's sentiments. He said it's "absurd" that Arpaio doesn't understand why he can't change the way Latinos feel about him, given that "he has spent the last decade or so terrorizing the Latino community."
Gutierrez said he has talked to Arpaio in public a few times, including outside his office several years ago. But like Guzman, he has never had a meeting with the 84-year-old sheriff.
"In the last few years, had I been invited to a meeting, I wouldn't have bothered to attend it," he said. "It would've been a waste of my time."
Gutierrez also noted that Phoenix Councilman Michael Nowakowski is one of the few Latino leaders who've met with Arpaio. Nowakowski organized a meeting with Latino pastors and Arpaio in February 2013.
At the time, Nowakowski said he wanted to have a dialogue so that the "healing can begin" between the sheriff and the Latino community. But just days after the meeting, Arpaio and his deputies conducted a workplace raid in Tempe.
Arpaio also met with a group of undocumented college students from Florida in June 2010. The students walked from Miami to Washington, D.C., to advocate for the DREAM Act, a bill that would have allowed millions of undocumented young immigrants to apply for citizenship.
They met with the sheriff to try to change the way he views undocumented immigrants. After the meeting, Arpaio said he was compassionate toward their plight but that he was elected to enforce U.S. immigration laws.
When asked what Arpaio could do now to try to make amends with Latinos, Guzman said that at the very least he could "apologize and accept what he did wrong.
"Would it help? Maybe. Maybe not," Guzman added. "It wouldn't help me, because I still have that resentment towards him because he never changed."
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