Condemn President Trump’s pardoning of Arizona sheriff
Joe Arpaio served as sheriff of Maricopa County, the most populous county in Arizona, for almost 25 years. In that time, “America’s Toughest Sheriff” used the powers and privileges of his office to terrorize the people of Maricopa County in ways few could imagine. According to Phoenix New Times, he set up a self-described concentration camp for convicted and sentenced prisoners called “Tent City.” Amnesty International singled it out as a “method of incarceration [that] violates basic worldwide standards of human rights.” According to a July 3, 2011 article in The Arizona Republic, temperatures in Tent City often reached 145 Fahrenheit — hot enough to melt one’s shoes after a short walk — and inmates had extremely limited access to water. He also reinstituted chain gangs and created the first-ever female and juvenile chain gangs in the United States. According to an Oct. 28, 2008 Phoenix New Times article, Arpaio faked an assassination attempt on his person as a publicity stunt, putting an innocent 18-year-old in jail for four years. His office is estimated to have improperly cleared over 82 percent of sexual assault cases, ending investigations without even attempting to identify a suspect or interview the victim, according to a Jan. 19, 2010 article from NBC 12 News.
When the judiciary finally began to crack down on his flagrant abuses of power, Arpaio brought forth corruption charges against his political opponents, charging every single judge, county supervisor and administrator who had previously opposed him, according to a Dec. 20, 2013 article in AZ Central, targeting those as high up as the then-mayor of Phoenix and Arizona’s Attorney General. Arpaio was willing to bend any law and incur any human cost in order to keep Maricopa County as his personal fiefdom, his tough-cop reputation paid for in blood.
Arpaio also gained national attention for his departmental policy of automatically racial profiling Latinos under the belief that any Latino citizen of Maricopa County is an illegal immigrant and should be treated as such. According to the plaintiff in the Melendres v. Arpaio case, Arpaio has said that he instructed officers to pay attention to “their speech, what they look like, if they look like they came from another country.” He also openly bragged about having no officer training to reduce the risk of racial profiling, stating that “if we do not racial profile, why would I do a training program?” Residents described a system where the mere act of driving while being Latino was a criminal offense, with the looming threat of police stops and commands of “show me your papers” being ever-present. Imagine Rudy Giuliani's “stop-and-frisk” program a hundred times more pervasive without even the basic pretense of being racially neutral, and you’ll have an idea of what Arpaio’s system looked like.
Although the voters of Maricopa County finally ousted him from his post in the November 2016 election, Arpaio remains the embodiment of every single thing that is wrong with American law enforcement. Arpaio’s failure to comply with 2014 judicial orders to stop pervasive racial profiling and police brutality led to a contempt of court charge, of which he was found guilty on July 31 of this year.
It should come as no surprise that President Donald Trump considers “Sheriff Joe” a role model for American law enforcement, calling him an “American patriot” who “kept Arizona safe,” according to an Aug. 23, 2017 article in the Guardian. If you believe the president, then "Sheriff Joe was convicted for doing his job” and the sentence of six months in jail for decades of torture and oppression is too much for him.
While Trump’s praise for Arpaio always represented serious issues of poor jurisprudence and promoting police misconduct, Trump has completely undermined the rule of law and the rights guaranteed to all Americans with his recent actions. On Aug. 25, Trump granted full executive clemency to Arpaio, officially absolving him of any wrongdoing and fully condoning his actions. To call that a slap in the face to the rule of law would be an understatement. By pardoning Arpaio, Trump is giving legal legitimacy to the former sheriff’s barbaric vision for law enforcement and his iron-clad view of unequal justice. The Maricopa County Sheriff Department effectively set up a system that created a permanent underclass by denying those the Sheriff perceived as Latino basic tenets of our Bill of Rights — the right to a trial, the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, the right to not be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. Trump’s pardon is tantamount to an endorsement of this system.
Make no mistake: Trump’s pardoning of Arpaio is, in effect, openly declaring war against the judiciary. Trump has made it clear that he despises the limits of executive power placed upon him by judges and administrators and has actively undermined the ability of the courts to curb executive overreach and criminal activity. Not only does pardoning Arpaio essentially give other police carte blanche to act however they please knowing that Trump could easily wipe away their crimes in an instant, but it also shows clear contempt for a court’s orders — the exact crime for which Arpaio was indicted in the first place. While Arizona’s Republican senators John McCain and Jeff Flake were quick to criticize the pardon, light criticism won’t stop the rampant abuse that Trump has now sanctioned. If politicians really want to send a message to Trump, they should do so by standing against everything Arpaio represents by enacting real criminal justice reform — taking it straight to the corrupt institutions that allow monsters like Arpaio to get away scot-free. As it stands, Trump throwing his lot in with Arpaio has confirmed every fear about his presidency — the xenophobia, racism, authoritarian tendencies, contempt for rule of law — a thousand times over.