With 27 days until Election Day, Joe Arpaio – the Maricopa County, Arizona official who describes himself as “America’s Toughest Sheriff” – has more than potentially losing his seat to worry about. The Justice Department announced Tuesday that it will pursue criminal charges against Arpaio for his continued racial profiling of Latino drivers.
For two decades, Arpaio has enacted controversial policing methods that target and harm communities of color. From his inhumane tent city jail to his racial profiling of Latinos, Arpaio has for too long instilled fear in Maricopa County’s most disenfranchised. Back in 2011, U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow issued a preliminary injunction that ordered him to stop unlawfully detaining Latino drivers. But the racial profiling continued to happen – something Arpaio and his deputies fessed up to but said wasn’t intentional.
Snow didn’t buy this explanation – instead arguing that Arpaio defied the law because he thought it’d give him a better shot at winning his 2012 re-election bid, according to NPR. “Sheriff Arpaio did so based on the notoriety he received for, and the campaign donations he received because of, his immigration enforcement activity,” Snow said.
The trial’s currently set for December 6. But Arpaio’s attorney, Mel McDonald, said that the sheriff “vehemently denies that he was ever knowingly and willfully contemptuous of any court order.” If convicted, Arpaio may spend up to six months in jail, the Washington Post reports. As McDonald works to get the case pushed back and to present it to a jury rather than a judge, a group of young activists in Arizona continue to remain laser-focused on November 8. “The people of Maricopa County will remove Sheriff Arpaio from office before his next court date,” Elisa Avalos, an organizer with the BaztaArpaio campaign, said in a statement. “We’re tired of him thinking he’s above the law and making everyone else pay for his abuses.”
Bazta Arpaio has brought together a group of young activists intent on keeping him from winning a seventh term. For many of them, Arpaio’s 23-year run as sheriff has defined most of their lives. The members have knocked on doors educating people about Arpaio’s policies. They’re speaking to their peers on school campuses. And they’re registering people to vote. On the ground, they’re finding that many people have also had enough of the 84-year-old sheriff.
While Arpaio has negatively affected the lives of many in Maricopa, his infamy has helped him raise a staggering $12 million, NPR reports. But despite this inordinate amount of money, it’s not going to be smooth sailing for Arpaio. First, there’s the aforementioned Bazta Arpaio tirelessly working to upend his campaign. And then there’s billionaire George Soros. He’s supporting a group called Maricopa Strong, which is sending fliers to voters to inform them how Arpaio has failed to investigate sex crimes and has cost tax payers money with his own legal woes. One flier reads, “Joe Arpaio: using our money to clean up his messes instead of keeping us safe.” The racial profiling case has already cost taxpayers about $50 million.
There’s not a lot of polling for this race. But a mid-August Arizona Republic/Morrison/Cronkite News poll found that 57 percent of respondents do not think of Arpaio favorably. Arpaio’s campaign head, Chad Willems, disagrees and says internal polls suggest Arpaio will win. Arpaio also believes that – much like Donald Trump – he can sway Latino voters. “One of my problems I’ve had – I haven’t been able to rectify it – I would love to get to the Latino community and talk to them,” he said. “It is very difficult. Some of them think I am the devil and all that. I am a nice guy. If I can get to talk to them, hey, I will swing them my way.”