Chanting, "We will not comply," and, "Whose streets? Our streets," a group of about 70 protesters took over one of the entrances to the square-mile town of Guadalupe Wednesday night, facing down Maricopa County sheriff's deputies in a tense standoff that lasted a little over an hour.
From 11:45 p.m. till a little past 1 a.m., demonstrators blocked traffic going into or out of Guadalupe via Avenida del Yaqui, not far from Arizona Mills Mall. City buses and other vehicles were forced to turn back or take a route around the line of Guadalupe residents and other activists.
The protesters said they were against the enactment of SB 1070 and opposed to the abuses of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose deputies are contracted by the town for law enforcement services.
Early Wednesday, federal Judge Susan R. Bolton enjoined the most significant provisions of SB 1070, leaving other aspects of it to take effect today, July 29. But the protesters insisted this was not enough.
"We do understand that not all of SB 1070 was passed," said Guadalupe resident Diane Sanchez-Alvarado. "But that doesn't mean it's all right. Regardless of what the law says, we're all human beings. We shouldn't be treated as something else."
Regarding Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his boys in beige, who have patrolled the town for years, Sanchez-Alvarado and others complained of a litany of abuses perpetrated by the MCSO in the town, which is half Mexican-American, and half Yaqui Indian.
"We're always being harassed by him," Sanchez-Alvarado said of Arpaio. "He thinks he can do whatever he wants with us."
The postage-stamp size municipality has been the subject of numerous complaints by residents who say they are routinely harassed by MCSO officers. Guadalupanos report that deputies unnecessarily pull guns on them and enter their homes without warrants.
In 2008, Arpaio conducted one of his controversial anti-immigrant sweeps of the town, terrorizing people whose families have lived in Guadalupe for generations. Relations between the MCSO and residents have been especially strained since then.
Of the sheriff's deputies, Sanchez-Alvarado stated, "They're vicious with us. They're what we would consider savages."
Savages or not, last night, Arpaio's minions seemed perplexed by the situation, and unsure of what to do.
Around eight MCSO patrol cars responded to the scene, and deputies with the MCSO's gang unit stood around being taunted by the protesters as they contemplated a response.
"You're the real gang here," protesters yelled at them.
Eventually one of the deputies approached the double-line of demonstrators, some of them activists from nearby Tempe and Phoenix. Members of a local anarchist group also reinforced the crowd.
The deputy, who declined comment to reporters, asked the demonstrators to leave the street. He was met with stony silence from protesters who had locked arms in preparation for a showdown. Many had stated earlier that they were willing to be arrested.
It seemed as if the protesters and the deputies were fated to butt heads. But a little after 1 a.m., protest organizer Andrew Sanchez told the crowd that he'd spoken with the mayor of Guadalupe and that they'd made their point about MCSO police abuses and SB 1070.
Demonstrators withdrew to the sidewalks, and the deputies drove away to the cheers of those present.
"It was peaceful, it was successful, and we managed to get the cops' attention," Sanchez told me afterward. "We had said previously that we were only going to hold the street for an hour, and we did."
The MCSO was outnumbered last night, and deputies looked worried at the prospect of having to wade in to the crowd and arrest people. The issue now will be, what sort of retaliation, if any, Guadalupe residents will endure from the MCSO.
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