Why doesn't it surprise me that nativist stalwart Lynne Stevens, known also by her YouTube handle "Jackie40D," recently pulled her ever-present sidearm while protesting day laborers at a Walmart in Central Phoenix?
Two reasons: Stevens' several violent statements in the past toward Mexicans and others, and a recent escalation of tensions between activists — on both sides of the immigration debate — at the 37th Street and Thomas Road store.
There, day laborers (many of Mexican descent and some undoubtedly undocumented) gather daily from sunrise to sunset, hustling to snag work from those seeking to give it to them. Unlike the Home Depot store next door, Walmart does not trespass the dozens of men who wait for a chance at a day of pay.
Though nativists have staked out a section of sidewalk on Thomas Road in front of Walmart every Saturday for several weeks, their numbers have dwindled to a few hardliners, including Stevens, James Markins (known as "Angry Jim" by anti-nativist forces), and a wheelchair-bound Native American known only as Nelson.
According to Sergeant Brian Murray of the Phoenix Police Department's Community Relations Bureau (which keeps the peace at Phoenix demonstrations), the commander of the area precinct once stationed cops nearby, but no longer.
"The precinct had officers out there dedicated to the day-laborer issue," Murray told me. "But they've been reassigned and are now employed in a different capacity in the precinct."
Normally, this might seem an effective use of manpower considering the puny numbers of nativists clinging to protest signs that read "Way To Go Sheriff Joe," "It's Dangerous to Hire Day Laborers" or repeating bigoted shibboleths about Mexicans and disease.
But the incident with Stevens on the morning of Saturday, January 9, has upped the ante. Stevens, a nativist regular who has worn her sidearm to protests — even protests where Latino children were present — and has bragged to me about hunting illegal aliens near the border, either pulled her sidearm in self-defense or overreacted to an argument, depending on whom you ask.
According to the Phoenix Police Department, which responded with several patrol cars after it was phoned by Walmart security about 10:30 a.m., Stevens did not point her gun at anyone, but unholstered it when someone supposedly threw a rock at her. Stevens was not taken into custody because the cops didn't have any victims willing to come forward.
"No one came forward and said, 'She pointed that gun at me,'" said James Holmes, a PPD spokesman. "She had the weapon, she felt threatened, she pulled the weapon out, she pointed it in the air, and she told the crowd to stop. Then she pointed it toward the ground."
Holmes said Stevens claimed she had been pelted with rocks by the laborers and that they then advanced on her, forcing her to draw, as if she were a character in the HBO series Deadwood. When security arrived, she holstered her weapon and waited for the cops, who confiscated it briefly. They then gave it back to her, and she agreed to leave for the day.
Officer Holmes also told me there was one other witness — not a laborer — who corroborated elements of Stevens' story.
The day laborers I talked to the day after the incident sang a different tune. Though no one wanted to give a name, one man, whom I'll call Marcos, said Stevens pulled her gun after a verbal altercation with a motorist entering the Walmart lot from Thomas.
"[The driver] parked at the entrance and got out," Marcos said, through an interpreter. "The guy was with his family. He got out and started arguing [with Stevens]. They were talking back to each other. And that's when she pulled out the gun. We got close to see what was going on, and that's when she pointed the gun at us."
This motorist amscrayed after Stevens flashed the gun, according to the day laborer.
Marcos, who's been going to Walmart for the past four years to find work, said he didn't see anyone throwing stones at Stevens. He said jobs had become increasingly scarce over the past year and he'd been able to score only two, doing general cleanup work, over the past month.
He and the other jornaleros ignore Stevens and the others, he said, because the laborers' focus is on getting work from passing motorists.
"They just come to create problems," he said of the nativists. "We want to work, so we don't cause any problems. It's other people who get mad at them."
One witness, who is not a laborer, told me she saw the initial confrontation between the driver of an SUV and Stevens. She said she did not see anyone throwing rocks, and the only time she saw a gun in Stevens' hand was when Stevens was pointing it in the air.
Another laborer took a cell-phone photo of Stevens with her gun in the air and a daunting expression on her face. I was not able to reach Stevens, a member of the virulently anti-immigrant extremist group United for a Sovereign America and its biker wing Riders U.S.A., by press time.
Marcos' concern was for his own safety and what would happen if he were to get shot by accident.
"What if a bullet comes out?" he wondered. "We don't have money to go to the hospital. It worries me that we can get hurt."
ANGRY JIM'S WEAPON
When asked if the situation with Stevens was isolated or a harbinger of worse things to come, civil rights activist Salvador Reza said the Phoenix PD is playing with fire.
"In their effort to look nonpartisan, they're really bending over backward to accommodate the nativists," he said. "Even when the evidence is on our side. In their effort to look neutral, they're really allowing this to fester."
Reza pointed to an incident two weeks ago with James Markins, a.k.a. Angry Jim, in which Markins allegedly assaulted pro-immigrant activist and videographer Dennis Gilman. I say "allegedly," though Gilman has posted video of Markins charging him with a large pole affixed with placards.
In the video, Gilman accidentally steps on one of Markins' signs, and Markins freaks out, pushing Gilman and jousting at him with his placard. You can hear the thumps of each blow Markins lands.
"That's private property, dude," Markins says, as he exacts schoolyard revenge.
As in the Stevens incident, the police were called. They swarmed over the area, talked to both sides, and let Markins leave without citing him.
According to a couple of witnesses, one officer even stopped a lane of traffic so that Markins could load his truck with the anti-Mexican signs.
"They'd probably arrest us," Reza said at the time. "But they won't arrest him."
Indeed, Markins has been videotaped bragging about past scuffles, and in a video posted on Stevens' YouTube page, he can be seen whacking a passerby with a sign outside the Macehualli Day Labor Center at Bell Road and 25th Street.
In that video, Markins trades words with someone walking past and dares the younger man to pick up one of the signs on the ground. When the guy does, Markins smacks him on the shoulder with the butt end of the sign he's carrying. The incident was never reported to the police.
Regarding the more recent Markins-Gilman confrontation, Gilman received a notice from the Phoenix prosecutor's office dated January 5 informing him that a criminal charge for assault would not be pursued against Markins.
Gilman told me he's contacted the prosecutor's office and informed officials of his video of the incident. He said they seemed interested in seeing it and asked him to turn it over to a police detective. He's hoping for a prosecution.
"I have every right to be there filming [the nativists] as long as they are there harassing the day laborers," he said. "What would happen if I responded with violence when they take pictures of me or call me names?"
I called the city prosecutor's office for a comment, but no one there got back to me.
Markins, who's in his 70s, can be a mean ol' cuss. He, Stevens, and the others have every right to exercise their freedom of speech under the U.S. Constitution. But what worries me is that in every incident involving them, it's people on the other side who must prove they did nothing to provoke the nativists.
As their numbers have dwindled, the nativists have grown more incensed and willing to lash out. Whether it's true or not, they seem to believe they are protected and untouchable by the authorities — no matter how wild or outlandish they act on the street.
And this is a serious problem, particularly with Stevens' Billy the Kid moment.
The Phoenix cops don't want to waste their resources babysitting a gaggle of haters, and I don't blame them. On the other hand, what if someone gets shot or blood is otherwise shed? Either the Phoenix PD needs to monitor the nativists or start holding them accountable for their actions.
The cops won't be able to shrug their shoulders, saying they didn't see it coming, if something horrific transpires.
Leave it to the Arizona Republic to pooh-pooh the most significant development in the saga of Sheriff Joe Arpaio in some time: The impaneling of a federal grand jury to investigate the MCSO's abuses of power.
Channel 5 was the first to report the story that County Manager David Smith and County Finance Director Sandi Wilson were subpoenaed to answer questions about the harassment they've endured from Sheriff's Office thugs. Smith and Wilson have been under "investigation" by the MCSO since butting heads with the sheriff's top brass over budget-cutting moves.
When I spoke to Wilson and Smith, they told me they still feared retaliation by the MCSO, though they had met with the U.S. Attorney's Office and though such retaliation would essentially make the case for the U.S. Attorney that the MCSO was targeting them for all the wrong reasons.
Both said the assistant U.S. Attorney they met with hinted they could go public with the news, which they immediately did. They refused to identify the federal prosecutor they spoke with, but the name of Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Lodge is on the subpoena that compels Wilson to appear.
The pair said they had not met with Arizona's new U.S. Attorney, Dennis Burke.
Why are they allowed to speak about secret grand jury matters, you might wonder? Particularly considering that New Times founders Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin were arrested by the MCSO in 2007 for going public over a grand jury — one never actually impaneled — that would have been investigating trumped-up allegations against this paper.
(In case you're new to the story, the charges against Lacey and Larkin were dropped the next day by County Attorney Andrew Thomas after a tsunami of public outrage forced his hand.)
The answer is that U.S. grand juries are different from state grand juries in that Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure insist on silence from just about everyone but witnesses.
The American Bar Association's Web site offers a concise explanation:
"The witness exemption was adopted in part because it was thought that requiring witness secrecy was unrealistic and unenforceable and, in part, to allow the witness to rebut rumors concerning his or her testimony."
A high-ranking federal official who tipped me off in December that the U.S. Attorney's office was prepared to act early in the new year, explained that the U.S. Attorney's Office probably wanted Wilson and Smith to go public for a couple of reasons: to protect them from further harassment and to encourage other prospective witnesses to come forward with tales of MCSO abuse.
Enter Phoenix's fish-wrap with a piece featuring a headline that sums up the daily newspaper's premise: "Joe Arpaio, MCSO Investigation May Not Lead to Indictment."
Thanks for the news flash, Miss Marple. Arpaio and Co. could practically use the Republic's article as a press release (though I would suggest an even less laudatory use for the paper it's printed on).
This is the same daily whose star columnist accepts a pizza pie from Arpaio in jest whenever he mildly admonishes the sheriff in print. That's with the emphasis on mildly.
If the Rep meant to belie the seriousness of a federal grand jury probing our county's corrupt top cop, its effort was undercut by the announcement that the MCSO's chief financial officer, Loretta Barkell, has been subpoenaed by the grand jury, as well.
My fed source tells me that we should expect other MCSO muck-a-mucks to be hauled before the panel. Believe me, if they call Chief Deputy David Hendershott, I'll be in the lobby of the Sandra Day O'Connor Federal Courthouse to note the monumental occasion.
Of course, I can't get into the proceedings themselves, but the fact that the MCSO higher-ups are getting scrutinized like Mafia dons is encouraging. When Channel 5 interviewed ex-U.S. Attorney David Iglesias for a piece on Arpaio's abuses, he said (if he were in charge in Arizona) he would work closely with a grand jury to seek an indictment.
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On what grounds could Arpaio or his underlings be indicted? At the time, Iglesias pointed to federal statutes proscribing a conspiracy against someone's constitutional rights, and preventing law enforcement's acting under "the color of law" to do the same.
Sheesh, everything nefarious that Arpaio and his henchmen have done during the sheriff's 17 years in power has been done under the "color of law."
It may be too much to anticipate that some of the sheriff's stooges will one day be forced to trade in their brown shirts for pairs of Arpaio-issue pink underwear. But for those of us who've been jumping up and down screaming for the feds to act, there is small satisfaction in seeing them do something.
Now, the U.S. Attorney's Office needs to step it up. There's no doubt that indictments are possible. Talk about your low-hanging fruit! If the feds examine it hard enough, it will fall off the tree.