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Thousands march in Phoenix

Sheriff Joe has got to go

Published Mar 5, 2009 8:12 PM

Many thousands of people—young and old, Black, white and Latina/o—packed downtown Phoenix on Feb. 28 for an all-day rally and march protesting the racist actions of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

The protest made a stop at the Wells Fargo building, which houses Arpaio’s office, before proceeding to the Federal Courthouse. The crowd demanded the ouster of Arpaio and the end to Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which allows Arpaio and his deputized thugs to enforce federal immigration law. Arpaio has created a posse comitatus—a paramilitary group of sorts—to act as his deputies and terrorize people of color in the Phoenix area.

Isabel Garcia speaks at March 1
‘Stop Sheriff Arpaio’ protest.
WW photo : Paul Teitelbaum

The rally began with a blessing ritual and a speech from leaders of the Tohono O’odom nation. The Tohono O’odom’s land is located in both the U.S. and Mexico. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security plans to extend its border wall onto Tohono land, thus dividing the nation into two separate entities and disrupting the lives and culture of its people. In fact, eight nations of Indigenous peoples that have existed for thousands of years have been divided by the U.S.-Mexico border.

Arpaio’s racist history and abuse are well documented. At his “Tent City” jail, temperatures can reach a deadly 150 degrees in the summer. His practice of feeding prisoners just twice a day with spoiled food, his reinstatement of the chain gang and his cruel treatment of inmates—including those awaiting trial who have not been convicted of any crime—have cost Maricopa County more than $46 million in lawsuit settlements.

Shackled detainees on forced march to
segregated Tent City.
Photo: Phoenix New Times

There have been numerous deaths at the hands of Arpaio’s prison guards, often when using what they call a “restraint chair.” In July 2008, the ACLU of Arizona filed a class action suit accusing the Maricopa County Sheriff of illegally profiling Latina/os. On Feb. 11, the Federal District Court for Arizona ruled that the lawsuit could proceed.

On Feb. 4 Sheriff Arpaio marched 200 “suspected” undocumented workers, all shackled and dressed in striped prison clothes, from the County Courthouse to Tent City. This public humiliation, reminiscent of slaves being paraded to the auction block, was the latest outrage and prompted the call for the demonstration.

At the end of the rally near the Federal Courthouse, speakers from various organizations connected the struggle to oust Arpaio to the struggle against racism in general. Isabel Garcia of Tucson pointed out how Arizona is being used as a testing ground by the so-called Department of Homeland Security.

Janet Napolitano, now DHS chief, was governor of Arizona when the criminalizing of an entire population began: the militarization of the border and the steady movement of Border Patrol presence northward, the implementation of Operation Streamline—a federal program that detains approximately 70 undocumented workers per hour, then turns them over to privately run prisons to serve their sentences—and the so-called Employer Sanctions law, which is really aimed at workers.

“These programs started in Arizona and are exported to other states,” Garcia explained. “We in Arizona need to fight back the hardest against these atrocities.”

This day of protest against Arpaio and what he stands for was also a day of support for immigrant workers and Indigenous peoples. The people are ready to unite and fight back.