Footage shot by civil rights activist Salvador Reza of "the cone incident."
Despite everything, I try to keep an open mind when it comes to Joe Arpaio's boys in beige. As I've mentioned previously in this blog, I've met numerous ex-sheriff's deputies who seem like decent human beings, emphasis on the ex. Many of them left the MCSO because the organization is corrupt, needlessly brutal, and devoted to a sort of "us against the world" mentality.
Such exceptions aside, MCSO's persistent unprofessionalism has so poisoned its well, that only a complete takeover by some federal authority or judge will render it a true law enforcement agency, one that can regain the respect of other law enforcement entities, and the public it serves. A recap of tonight's scene outside the sheriff's command post for the Avondale sweep illustrates my point.
I got there late, missing the three-ring press conference Arpaio usually serves up around 5 p.m. the day these things begin. At a little after 7p.m., there were the usual vocal sides of nativists and anti-Joe protesters present, with the nativists outnumbered more than three-to-one. At the peak, about 100-plus populated the anti-Joe camp, and about 30 were in the nativist group.
Each side peppered the other with catcalls and insults. I later saw a news report indicating that Avondale cops were doing security, but there was absolutely no one present keeping the peace while I was there. "Crowd control" is evidently a foreign concept to the MCSO. Every sweep I've eyeballed for over a year has been a free-for-all.
Some of the back and forth was good-natured. Some of it was not. In particular, this one rotund nativist in a red shirt and a turned-around baseball cap was very loud and very obnoxious. I tried talking with him civilly, and kept my voice intentionally low as I spoke to him, because he was obviously agitated and enraged. He wouldn't give me his name, but he informed me that he was angry because there were people protesting Sheriff Joe. He asserted that Joe was just doing his job, and that the sheriff was not racially profiling anyone.
But there seemed to be more to his complaint against the anti-Joe folks.
"I just want to know where your fucking pride's at?" he asked me at one point.
"Like, what kind of pride?" I asked in return.
"Any pride," he shot back.
"White pride?" I suggested, tongue in cheek.
"Are you standing over there [meaning the anti-Joe people], or are you standing over here?" he asked, adding, "Pride, that's where you have a belief, and you will fight for that belief because you know it's right. That's why they don't have pride."
"They don't have pride?"
"No, they don't," he insisted. "They're here for Mexicans. We're not here because [Sheriff Joe] is white. We're here because he's trying to do his job."
This went on, and I ended up telling him the story of Avondale resident Julio Mora, an American citizen, who along with his 66-year-old legal resident dad, was detained by sheriff's deputies in February as he was taking his father to work at HMI, a Phoenix landscaping company then being raided by MCSO. They were each zip-tied, humiliated, and held for three hours. Mora testified at the recent 287(g) hearings in D.C., describing how his diabetic dad was not allowed to use the bathroom, and nearly wet himself.
"Big Red," as some were calling him, was unimpressed. First he denied it happened. Then he suggested it was just one case. Then he argued that there was nothing wrong with what happened to the Moras. Finally, he stated that Sheriff Joe couldn't be blamed for that because he didn't physically arrest the guy. I told him Joe was responsible because it's his agency.
"So if I don't like your paper, I should hit you?" he semi-threatened.
"If you want to hit me, please go right ahead," I said calmly.
Needless to say, he didn't take the swing, and he was soon off yelling at someone else. I later saw him get into it with this African-American military guy (can't remember if the fella was in the Marines or the Army) who was on the anti-Joe side. At one point, when activist Dennis Gilman tried to film him, Big Red pushed his "We Support Sheriff Joe" sign against Gilman's video camera.
Despite this ugliness, I did manage to have civil conversations with some of the pro-Joe folks. There was an African-American gent originally from Los Angeles named Mark, and we talked about how we both kind of missed L.A., but that it was too expensive to live there. When I asked him why he supported the sheriff, he said, "I don't want to get into all that right now." Much later, he asked that I delete the photo I had taken of him. I told him I couldn't do that, but I've decided not to use his pic. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, maybe he was having second thoughts about being out there with nutcases like Big Red.
I also had a long, engaging conversation with this guy I'd seen numerous times protesting at the Macehualli Work Center named Mike. He was there with his wife Lori, and he stated that his tree-trimming business had been hurt by competition with undocumented migrants. Currently, he's going to school to become a substance abuse counselor. We actually had some points of agreement on the subject at hand, though we're in disagreement as to a solution. Mike wants to send the undocumented back, though he seemed to concede that deporting 12 to 20 million was a little unrealistic.
Later, when I was speaking with Mark again, MCSO Sgt. Poe approached me and informed me that I should move away from the nativists. At that point, things seemed fairly calm, so I found this kinda weird. Poe, whom I've seen before at other sweeps, suggested that the nativists had a free shot at me if I remained in the area where they had congregated.
"I'm just telling you," he said within earshot of the nativists. "Don't come over here and get in somebody's face and then get knocked out and wannabe a victim."
"Believe me," I told Poe. "I would never call on the MCSO for assistance, because I don't consider you to be a professional law enforcement [entity]."
"And I don't consider you a victim when you do that," he replied.
"Um, so, you're basically giving them carte blanche [to assault me]," I said.
"You've got all the room you want to walk back and forth," he told me. "Quit encroaching on people trying to instigate a response."
I replied that the only response I was attempting to elicit was a response to a question. At this point, Poe walked away.
Since Poe had essentially invited the nativists to assault me, I decided to scoot down a bit, but not too far away. Eventually Poe came out again with an orange cone, placed it in the middle of the sidewalk, and told me and everyone on the anti-Joe camp that we had to stand to one side of the cone, with the nativists to the other side.
Now this struck just about everyone as ridiculous and arbitrary as we yards from the nativist clique. Also, the instructions were one-sided. Poe did not similarly advise the nativists not to cross this new border. Eventually someone kicked the cone and moved it down about a foot. Then David Letourneau, the Captain of MCSO's SWAT team came out to the sidewalk with Sgt. Poe, and moved the orange cone further towards the anti-Joe folks, threatening to arrest anyone who touched his cone, as lame as that sounds.
Letourneau is a cocky guy, even by cop standards. I tend to be sarcastic with him, as you can see from the video above, and he likes to taunt and threaten arrest. At one point, he approached Dennis Gilman, and kept advancing on Gilman as Gilman stepped back. Gilman tried to hand off his camera at one point, and I'm glad he didn't. With Gilman's hands full, it would be difficult for Letourneau to claim that Gilman had somehow attempted to assault him.
This is the same Letourneau who spends his time spying on people like activist Randy Parraz of the Maricopa Citizens for Safety and Accountability. (Parraz was arrested last year for "trespassing" on public property during a Board of Supervisors meeting.) And once I caught Letourneau keeping close watch on a peaceful MCSA protest. Is this what SWAT team members normally do: spy on people and harass them?
After the scene caught in the video above, Letourneau and Poe amscrayed, and everyone decided to hit the road, it being pretty late. As we were getting to our cars, we noticed all of the remaining nativists walking over to the command area and discussing something with the sheriffs. Could Big Red have been a plant of some kind? Might the entire episode have been a set up, a way for the MCSO to arrest some of the demonstrators? Nothing would surprise me. We are, of course, dealing with the MCSO.