Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Ariz., is certainly no stranger to negative press. He has gone out of his way at times to attract it. Court orders have even failed to stop Arpaio from spewing hateful rhetoric and abusing his position to violate the human rights of undocumented immigrants and residents of Arizona alike. Finally, the recent conviction of Arpaio for criminal contempt offers some closure to victims of Arpaio’s hate spree and will hopefully discourage other outspoken politicians and government officials from refusing to follow the oaths of their office and the U.S. Constitution.
Arpaio’s long legal battle began more than 10 years ago with a civil suit that alleged Arpaio systematically abused the rights of undocumented immigrants and forced others under his control to do the same. The lawsuit claimed that Arpaio personally and ordered his deputies to detain Latinos in Arizona for suspicion of being in the U.S. illegally and without having any other cause to arrest them. The detainees were then turned over to federal immigration agents in the hopes that they would be permanently deported from the country. This was done with such force and was so pervasive that there was a statewide outcry against Arpaio and his office, which caught the attention of many reporters.
After that lawsuit was heard in federal court, Judge G. Murray Snow put an immediate halt to Arpaio’s detention practices against Latinos. He ordered that Arpaio discontinue his office’s practice of using racial profiling as a basis to detain Latinos for no reason other than their skin color. Arpaio did not simply follow this order quietly. Instead, he told his employees to continue to stop Latinos who may be in the U.S. without documentation and turn them over to federal immigration agents. Judge Snow attempted to reinforce his previous order with subsequent ones, but this did nothing to slow Arpaio’s crusade against innocent Latinos. Arpaio justified his action with the flimsy explanation that he was only enforcing the immigration laws and that it would be unethical for him to do otherwise. Of course, this sorry excuse for blatant racism was met with outrage and protests among Arizona residents.
Judge Susan R. Bolton recently ruled that Arpaio is in criminal contempt of Judge Snow’s order, which carries a penalty of a maximum of six months in prison. Once again, Arpaio and his delusional supporters laughed in the face of this conviction and proclaimed that they had won the war on illegal immigration by speaking out against these purported attempts to limit their ability to enforce the laws. It is safe to say that Judge Bolton is less than amused with Arpaio’s reaction to the conviction, which could factor heavily into Arpaio’s upcoming sentencing hearing. His lack of remorse and disrespect of the law are qualities that clearly make Arpaio unfit to serve in any law enforcement capacity. Supporters of human rights and the Latino community look forward to seeing justice served and the public statement that will stand against the racist policies of Arpaio and his ilk. The scheduling hearing is set to take place in October and will likely be attended by reporters, human rights activists and pro-racial profiling protestors. Whatever the outcome of the sentencing hearing, Arpaio will surely have a distasteful response to the sentence he will be required to serve. His lawyers have often acted as mouthpieces for his racist policies.
Even though the fact that a public official could so openly enforce discriminatory and dangerous policies is more than a bit troubling, the positive response to Arpaio’s heinous actions has been inspiring. One of Arpaio’s unintended results of his public campaign against immigrants is that human rights groups have been energized to take the fight back to Arpaio in constructive ways. Foundations have been established and donors have been inspired to support pro-Latino causes in Arizona, which has certainly frustrated Arpaio’s ultimate goal of marginalizing the entire Latino community in the state.
One of the most prominent examples of a silver lining in the Arpaio controversy is the start of the Frontera Fund. Jim Larkin and Michael Lacey experienced the wrath of Arpaio firsthand when they were falsely arrested under the order of Arpaio for a trumped up charge of violating the secrecy of a grand jury. The real kicker of the story was that a grand jury was never even convened, and Arpaio admitted to both of them that they only reason that they were detained was to stop them from publishing negative stories about Arpaio. He was furious that they had been investigating Arpaio and his office throughout their careers in journalism and was livid that they uncovered evidence that Arpaio had abused his power to undermine his political opponents. It did not take long for Larkin and Lacey to receive a settlement check in the amount of $3.75 million.
Rather than sailing off into the sunset after being wrongly accused by an irrational and unhinged sheriff, Larkin and Lacey decided to do some real good with their settlement. They launched the Frontera Fund to support other groups fighting against Arpaio’s antics and supporting the rights of the Hispanic community. Larkin and Lacey are also staunch advocates of First Amendment rights and stand in support of journalists who work to uncover the truth about the corruption of public officials and abuses of power. The Frontera Fund regularly donates to other human rights organizations throughout Arizona and partners with some of the most prominent advocates for Latino rights.
Lacey and Larkin’s partnership began when they founded the Phoenix New Times, a progressive publication dedicated to combating the biased reporting of ultra-conservative publications in the region. They experienced incredible success in publishing and advertising and were able to acquire other successful publications as part of their media conglomerate, Village Voice Media Holdings. They continued to report on important political and social issues and were awarded more than 100 journalistic honors as a result of their commitment to accuracy and the public interest.