In Pardon of Arpaio, Trump Locks Himself in a Permanent Embrace With Racism

Donald J. Trump abused the powers of the presidency last night when he pardoned Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona. Mr. Arpaio was recently convicted of criminal contempt for willfully ignoring a federal court order requiring that he and his officers cease their racist policing practices targeting Latinos and violating their legal and constitutional rights. In pardoning Mr. Arpaio, Mr. Trump sends a deplorable and dangerous message: It’s okay to take the law into your own hands and terrorize communities of people who don’t look like you, because the president has your back.

Mr. Trump’s pardon of Mr. Arpaio is yet another embrace of racism and white supremacy by a president who only days ago said that there were many “very fine people” among the torch-bearing neo-Nazis and violent white nationalists parading in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Mr. Arpaio served as sheriff of the county that includes the city of Phoenix for 24 years, until losing a reelection bid in 2016. During his tenure, he pursued an escalating program of extra-legal and discriminatory harassment, detentions, and arrests of Latinos targeted solely for their ethnic appearance.

In a lawsuit brought a decade ago, he and his officers and staff were charged with systematically violating the rights of Latinos, stopping them based on racial profiling, detaining them without proper cause, and turning them over to immigration authorities simply on the unfounded suspicion that they might be here illegally. Those regular practices often resulted in detention of legal residents and U.S. citizens who had broken no laws.

In 2011, federal Judge G. Murray Snow ordered Sheriff Arpaio to stop the detentions in cases lacking evidence that a state law had been violated. Mr. Arpaio publicly rejected the court’s order and his officers continued the detentions at the sheriff’s direction. Two years later, Mr. Arpaio lost an attempt to overturn the order when Judge Snow ruled that the sheriff’s office had systematically violated the rights of Latinos.

That ruling mirrored the findings of an extensive, three-year investigation by the civil rights division at the Department of Justice, begun under the Bush administration in 2008 and stonewalled for a year and a half by the sheriff’s office. Concluded in 2011, that investigation found large-scale racial profiling, illegal detentions and arrests, wretched jail conditions, rampant intimidation of individuals pursuing complaints, and evidence of hideously blatant racist behavior by the sheriff and his officers and staff.

In 2015, Judge Snow found Mr. Arpaio in civil contempt of court for continuing to violate the judge’s earlier order. Federal prosecutors charged the sheriff with criminal contempt.

In July, federal District Judge Susan Bolton ruled that Arpaio had willfully violated the 2011 court order and found him guilty of criminal contempt. The conviction carries a punishment of up to six months in prison. Sentencing was scheduled for October 5.

As sheriff, Mr. Arpaio regularly humiliated and abused prisoners, making them wear pink underwear, restraining them in chain gangs, and subjecting them to solitary confinement for no reason. His mistreatment of largely Latino detainees included incarcerating them in a “Tent City” – a vast outdoor detention center, ringed by electric fencing, which he gleefully compared to a concentration camp. In triple-digit temperatures, prisoners were housed in canvas huts with inadequate food, water, and medical attention.

For years, Joe Arpaio and Donald Trump bonded as the Bobbsey Twins of “birtherism” – the most prominent purveyors of the racist lie that President Barack Obama was not a natural-born American citizen.

Mr. Trump’s pardon of Mr. Arpaio now binds them together in the downward-spiraling vortex of this president’s embrace of racism and utter contempt for the rule of law – a maelstrom that appears to have no bottom. To say that, in pardoning Mr. Arpaio, Mr. Trump has violated his oath to uphold the Constitution feels like an understatement.

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About the Author

Mitchell Hirsch

Areas of expertise:
  • Living Wage & Minimum Wage,
  • Unemployment Insurance

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