With mariachis, dancing, ice cream cake, and even a brief appearance by Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Phoenix civil rights leader Salvador Reza and fellow activists celebrated one year of near-daily protests at the Wells Fargo Building downtown, where Arpaio's MCSO keeps two floors of pricey executive offices, paid for by county coffers.
Every weekday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. since this time last year, Reza and his merry band of protesters have laid siege to the tower at 100 West Washington Street, carrying signs, much as they did today, which boast such messages as "Stop Racism," "Arpaio Is Abusing Power," "End 287(g)," and so forth.
Arpaio, sadly, remains in power. So what have these energetic protests wrought, other than bugging the heck out of Arpaio every time he emerges from his gilded headquarters on the 19th floor? A lot, actually.
"We've brought attention at the national level, not only on Joe Arpaio, but on the 287(g) program," said Reza, referring to the federal program that allows local cops to enforce immigration law. "Now we have 521 organizations signing against 287(g). And the Justice Department is investigating Arpaio."
Indeed, Reza and the Puente movement, have constantly pushed the idea that it's not just Arpaio that's a problem, with his 160-plus 287(g)-man force, but that the entire 287(g) program needs to go. As he mentioned, that idea gained traction recently with a letter to President Barack Obama from 521 organizations, such as the ADL and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, demanding Obama terminate the program.
But the siege of the Wells Fargo building is also part of Reza's own brand of psychological warfare on Arpaio and his regime.
"It's an organizing tool," admitted Reza,"but it's also a way of bringing attention -- every day, every day, every day. Arpaio can no longer think he's going to be ignored, that he's going to be able to do whatever he does with [impunity]. He's never been investigated the way he's being done now."
I congratulated Reza for a year in, and for him winning the prestigious Jane Bagley Lehman Award for Excellence in Public Advocacy from the Tides Foundation. It comes with a $7,500 prize, which means Sal may finally have to trade in his battered beige "dignity van," for a less ancient vehicle. Too bad that cash for clunkers thing isn't still going on.
Arpaio's PR Flack Lisa Allen was nearby, so I strolled over and asked her if she'd seen Captain Joel Fox recently. She said she sees him all the time. So I wondered why she hadn't had her payroll deducted for for SCA's slush fund.
"They never even asked," she offered, genially. "I never even knew about it until I read about it in the newspaper, I think."
As to whether her boss was running for governor -- something that seems pretty unlikely despite a recent blurb in the Phoenix Business Journal, she pooh-poohed the idea.
"I think people like to talk to him about it," she said. "He's pretty happy being the sheriff."
The sheriff himself, surrounded by deputies such as Deputy Chief Paul Chagolla doubling as bodyguards, soon did his version of a perp walk back from the restaurant nearby he'd been to eat at. I walked alongside him for a sec.
I wondered if he got a charge out of the hate emanating from the demonstrators, but he just swatted the question away with a smile. He seemed to perk up when I asked him about the running-for-Guv silliness in the PBJ, but he deflected the query by asking if I wanted to be his campaign manager.
Um, not for all the payroll deductions in the world, senor.
He then wondered if I wanted to grab a bite with him sometime, as long as it was off the record.
"Let's just have a nice meal, without having to worry about it being in the newspaper," he suggested.
Sounds swell, sheriff. But every time I talk to you, I like to have the tape recorder running, capisce? You know, like you did a while back to that DHS officer talking to one of your boys. 'Cept I wouldn't do it surreptitiously. I'm not that low.
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I know the protesters get underneath Joe's skin, which is as thin as that stuff they wrap around sushi. Take a peak at Arpaio's Twitters from today. Five are about the demonstrators.
"1 yr, has gone bye [sic]," reads one, "and the protesters continue to slander me, my name and my office with disgusting signs and banners."
Here's another: "Heading back form [sic]lunch not going to be intimidated by protesters on their one year anniversary."
Heh, keep up the good work, Sal. The jefe is not amused.