In Arizona’s Maricopa County, 80-year-old Joe Arpaio has made a name for himself “for being not just the toughest but the most corrupt and abusive sheriff in America.” He’s now being sued by the Justice Department for civil rights violations against Latinos:
Arpaio began focusing on illegal immigration about six years ago, after he watched an ambitious politician named Andrew Thomas get elected chief prosecutor of Maricopa County by promising to crack down on illegal immigrants. In 2006, shortly before the Department of Homeland Security empowered local law-enforcement agencies to act as an arm of the federal immigration effort, Arpaio created a Human Smuggling Unit – and used Thomas’ somewhat twisted interpretation of the law to focus not on busting coyotes and other smugglers, but on going after the smuggled.
The move may have been indefensible from a legal standpoint, but it was political gold: Arpaio quickly ramped up his arrest numbers, bringing him a round of fresh media attention. The sheriff made a splash by setting up roadblocks to detain any drivers who looked like they could be in the U.S. illegally – a virtual license to racially profile Hispanics. Reports of pull-overs justified by little or no discernible traffic violations were soon widespread: Latinos in the northeastern part of the county, one study shows, were nine times more likely to be pulled over for the same infractions as other drivers. Arpaio’s men, the Justice Department alleges, relied on factors ‘such as whether passengers look “disheveled” or do not speak English.’ Some stops were justified after the fact: A group of Latinos who were photographed sitting in a car, neatly dressed, were described in the police report as appearing ‘dirty,’ the ostensible rationale for the pull-over. Testifying on the stand on July 24th in a federal trial over his department’s blatant record of racial profiling, Arpaio himself acknowledged that he once called the crackdown a ‘pure program to go after the illegals and not the crime first.’
“The Long, Lawless Ride of Sheriff Joe Arpaio.” — Joe Hagan, Rolling Stone