The Arizona Group That Helped Unseat Racist Sheriff Joe Arpaio Now Sets Sights on Trump

Sheriff Joe Arpaio (R) of Maricopa County, Arizona endorses Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump prior to a rally on January 26, 2016 in Marshalltown, Iowa. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

The news that President Donald Trump pardoned former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio for criminal contempt of court on Friday sent shockwaves throughout the nation. Politicians across the spectrum criticized the action, legal experts questioned the lawfulness of a president blocking a federal judge’s effort to implement the Constitution, and Twitter users lambasted Trump for interrupting vital coverage of Hurricane Harvey to make his announcement. But in Phoenix, Arizona – the city that is most familiar with the racist practices Arpaio enforced – a group that played a major role in unseating the ex-sheriff warned Trump he was the next official upholding white supremacy it’d bring down.

Bazta Arpaio, the multi-racial, multi-generational campaign launched August 2016 with the objective of voting the former sheriff out of office, is continuing to fight back against racism and xenophobia by taking aim at the man who pardoned Arpaio. “We defeated Sheriff Arpaio. We put him behind us. In the same way, we will defeat Donald Trump,” said Carlos Garcia, a board member of Bazta Arpaio and the executive director of Puente Arizona, a grassroots migrant justice organization, said during a press conference on Friday in response to Trump’s pardon.

Tonight Trump sent a clear message that it's ok to break the law as long as its to further a white supremacist agenda but we are stronger than his racism. We survived and thrived under Arpaio and Trump will be just one more to put behind us. #FightWhiteSupremacy

Posted by Puente Human Rights Movement on Friday, August 25, 2017

For 24 years, Arpaio, 85, has terrorized black and brown communities in Maricopa County. He conducted a series of raids, and installed Tent City – an open-field jail he once called a “concentration camp.” There, inmates endured 120-degree weather and humiliating practices that prompted some to take their own lives. He also targeted immigrants through racial profiling, which is why a court ended up charging him. In 2011, a judge ordered him to put an end to traffic patrols targeting immigrants, and just a few weeks ago, US District Judge Susan Bolton found he disobeyed that order. And that’s not all. By focusing on his racist agenda, the former sheriff didn’t investigate hundreds of child sexual assault cases in his county.

According to Garcia, by pardoning, and praising Arpaio as a “worthy candidate” with “years of admirable service,” Trump has tied himself with the former sheriff’s legacy of white supremacy in Maricopa County. “It sends an approval of racial profiling and white supremacy,” Garcia told Remezcla. “It rubber-stamps that he’s the white supremacy president. It sends a message that the sheriff and police are above the law and can ignore the courts and do with our community as they wish.”

Since the pardon, Arpaio’s attorneys have asked a US District Court judge to toss out his criminal contempt-of-court conviction. The former sheriff himself has suggested he’s considering a run for Senate.

“It sends an approval of racial profiling and white supremacy.”

“Trump’s pardon has emboldened Arpaio,” says Viridiana Hernandez, executive director of the Center for Neighborhood Leadership and a board member of Bazta Arpaio. “He said he’s considering running. He said a judge should consider taking away his conviction. All this shows is that he has no remorse. He does not care about what he did.”

But the one thing a Trump pardon can’t grant him is the power he used to wield. “One thing that gives us peace as a community is that we took away his power,” Hernandez adds. “He doesn’t have the power to hurt and traumatize our families anymore, and we’re ready to do it again.”

Hernandez knows the trauma Arpaio’s leadership has dealt the people of Maricopa County. She experienced it, too. Between the ages of 1 and 23, she and her parents were undocumented, and the ex-sheriff’s threats that “he was looking for us” always remained in the back of her head. In 2014, during one of Arpaio’s likely unconstitutional raids, that fear was realized. He entered Hernandez’s father’s worksite, and while her dad was not there, the former sheriff did get his hands on his file, prompting him and Hernandez’s mother to pack up their family’s bags and leave days later to another county. While the move may have saved the family from being torn apart, it devastated their quality of life. Today, her father remains unable to find steady work.

Surviving and removing the threat of Arpaio, she believes, has prepared her to do the same with Trump.

“We see Trump in Arizona,” she says. “We see his racism, his bigotry, his homophobia, his misogyny – we see it all – and we’re not afraid. We weren’t afraid of Arpaio in a way that paralyzed us. We used our fear to foster courage and fight back. Our community fought back and won, and we will make sure to get Trump out of office and have him be but another chapter in our history.”

“Trump showed us who he is, that he’s another Arpaio.”

Bazta Arpaio – a group of thousands of community members, with Garcia, Hernandez and Alejandra Gomez, co-director of Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA), making up the board – already has actions planned in Phoenix.

On Wednesday, hundreds of community members will demonstrate outside of the Phoenix City Council Chambers in response to police violence against protestors at an August 22 Trump rally that Puente Arizona described as “alt-right, fascist and white supremacist.” During the counter-demonstration, officers used teargas to disperse thousands of protesters outside of the Phoenix Convention Center where Trump spoke.

The people of Maricopa County are ready to continue the resistance, and to take it to a larger scale. They’re prepared to work with people outside of Arizona and take on Trump through direct action and electoral work. “Trump showed us who he is,” Garcia says, “that he’s another Arpaio, and by doing that he helped broaden our community of struggle and resistance.”