31 August 2017

Racial Profiling, or Why Joe Arpaio Would Have Locked Me Up

by Eve Fisher

I am not, in any way, a fan of Joe Arpaio's pardon.  The former Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona (which includes Phoenix) was a racist power-mad s.o.b.  (I know, I know, I should tell you how I really feel.)

Arpaio apparently believed that anyone Hispanic - or looked Hispanic - had to be illegal (NOTE: they're not.)  Arpaio and his deputies specifically targeted people with brown skin, and would simply pull over people who looked Hispanic.  "About a fifth of traffic stops, most of which involved Latino drivers, violated Fourth Amendment prohibitions against unreasonable seizures. "

Image result for maricopa az county jail
Maricopa Co. Jail -
Tent City
It is important to remember that Arpaio ran a jail, not a prison. Nonetheless, Arpaio referred to his jail as a concentration camp, and called all detainees (60% of whom had only been arrested, and had not yet arraigned, tried, or convicted) criminals.

NOTE:  Coffin v. United States 1895 established "presumption of innocence" as the bedrock of our criminal justice system.  But not, apparently, in Maricopa County.

Sheriff Arpaio dressed his detainees in black-and-white striped uniforms and pink underwear because it gave him a good laugh.  He fed the prisoners rotten food - green bologna was a favorite - because they didn't deserve any better. He housed detainees outdoors, under Army-surplus tents, without any cooling measures and inadequate water - the temperatures in the tents could easily reach 140 degrees. “I put them up next to the dump, the dog pound, the waste-disposal plant.”  Sheriff’s department officers punished Latino inmates who had difficulty understanding orders in English by locking down their pods, putting them in solitary confinement, and refusing to replace their soiled sheets and clothes. The investigation found that sheriff’s department officers addressed Latino inmates as “wetbacks,” “Mexican bitches,” “f***ing Mexicans,” and “stupid Mexicans.”   (The New Yorker)

But wait, there's more!  Arpaio was a real piece of work. He was (and is) one of the most prominent and persistent "birthers" around, to the point where he used Maricopa County funds to send a 5 man deputy squad to Hawaii to investigate then-President Obama's birth certificate.  He set up a fake assassination attempt to boost his reelection.  He tried to get a grand jury to indict a number of Maricopa County judges, supervisors, and employees.  (The grand jury rejected all the claims.)  His office improperly cleared - i.e., claimed to have solved - up to 75% of cases without investigations or arrests, and simply ignored hundreds of rape cases.  He claimed that he lacked enough detectives to do the job - and when he was given $600,000 for more detectives, none were hired and the money vanished.  Along with almost $100 million of Maricopa funds.  (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Arpaio, and The Atlantic)

But wait, there's more!  Back in 1995, a wheelchair-bound paraplegic named Richard Post needed help to urinate; well, that was asking too much, so the jailers strapped him into a restraint chair, tightened the straps as tight as they would go, and left him there for six hours.  And broke his neck. In case you're wondering, he'd been arrested for possession of a joint.  And no, he hadn't even been tried yet.  Presumption of innocence...  And no, this wasn't the only mauling, maiming, and even death that occurred under Arpaio's rule, in Arpaio's jail, where, remember, over 60% of his "criminals" were simply awaiting trial, often stuck because they couldn't afford cash bail. (Phoenix New Times)

What finally began the end of Arpaio's career was when a Mexican man holding a "valid tourist's visa" was stopped in Maricopa County, arrested, and detained for 9 hours in 2007. The man sued Arpaio and the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, alleging racial profiling. Four years later, in December, 2011, a federal judge in Phoenix ordered Arpaio to stop detaining anyone not suspected of a state or federal crime, reminding him that simply being in the U.S. illegally is not a crime, only a civil violation. Arpaio's response was to let everyone know that after "they went after me, we arrested 500 more just for spite." He was voted out of office in November of 2016.  He was finally convicted July 31, 2017, of criminal contempt of court. He was pardoned by President Trump August 25, 2017, before he was even officially sentenced.

Okay.  So what do I care?  Aside from the multiple violations of basic human rights, the United States legal system, and the United States Constitution?

After all, I'm not black.  I'm not Hispanic.  I'm not Jewish.  I'm not Native American.  However, I've been mistaken for all of these.  I'm 100% Greek, born there, orphaned there, adopted from there.  (All right, my genome, according to National Geographic, is 50% Greek, 25% Tuscan Italian, and 25% Northern Asian Indian.)

But I know something that blonds don't know.  I learned, very young, that WASP Americans - even those who aren't racist / bigots - are very ignorant of the possibilities of ethnic differences in a group of people who all have brown eyes, black hair, and a slightly darker shade of skin.  To many WASPS, we all look alike.

I was shipped to this country when I was 2 1/2 years old - here's a picture of me from the orphanage. That curly hair, those big dark eyes, led some people in our Arlington, VA world to assume that my parents had (for reasons passing understanding) adopted a child who might have "a touch of the tar brush" as it was so politely put back in the 1950's.  There were also whispers about me in my grandmother's small town in Kentucky. Nothing overt.  Just whispers, enough so that I was aware, early on, that not everyone was as pleased to have me around as my parents and grandparents.

Since then, I've had the privilege of explaining who I am, i.e., where I'm from, to an endless stream of people.  When I travel internationally, I'm the one taken aside for questioning.  I have a passport that says I was born in Athens, Greece, for one thing, and that makes people wonder.  It's only gotten worse since 9/11, and I have had long chats with uniformed personnel in many an airport.  The one exception is Athens, Greece, where the guy looked at my passport and waved me through without even a baggage check.
"Συνεχίστε!" "ευχαριστώ!"  ("Go on through!" "Thanks!")

But even when I don't have to have a passport, such as crossing the border into Canada - and they are always very polite - I'm the one who has to get out of the car and talk directly to the border guard so that s/he can make sure I'm not...  someone else...  something else...  That I really am "American".

I don't mind that.  Well, I do mind, but I can live with it.  But there's more.

In 1960 we moved from Arlington, VA to southern California.  In the '60s, when the California image was blonde, tan, and thin.  I had the tan.

NOTE:  It's all right - I figured if you can't join 'em, beat 'em, and (in the world of mini-skirts and gogo boots) came to school wearing my grandmother's 1930's suits (see illustrations on the right) and an armload of books.  If you're going to stand out, stand out with style.

Moved down South.

A little profiling, here and there.  A  a lot of, "Greece?" said by someone with an extremely puzzled face.  And some other things, like the time a KKK type followed me through the stacks in the public library saying "oink, oink", "Jew pig", "Jew bitch", etc.

And then we came to South Dakota, where I have been taken for Native American.  In a small town West River, my husband and I stopped late one summer night to get a motel room.  Back then, I had long hair, down to my waist, and, since it was summer, a pretty good tan.  I was told they had no vacancies.  I went back to the car and we sat (windows open) to figure out where the next closest town was, and another car pulled up.  A nice blond man got out, went in - I could hear the entire conversation - asked if they had a room, and was told "Yes, sir.  Sign right here." I told some friends about it, and they said, "Oh, yeah.  They're pretty racist up there."

And more.

Now all this happened, but not daily.  (Well, not since my school days - no, you could not pay me enough money to be a child again.)  Just often enough to give me a hint of what it must be like to be truly a minority in this country.  But I'm still officially white, part of the white majority, and I do have privileges. There are all sorts of things I can do without getting arrested, or even stopped by the police:
  • I can change lanes without signaling.
  • I can walk around the neighborhood wearing a hoodie.
  • I can reach for my car registration and proof of insurance in the glove compartment.
  • I can stand on a street corner, looking confused and anxious.
  • I can forget my keys and use a coat hanger to get into my locked car.  Or open a window to get into my locked house. 
  • I can sit on my front porch and watch whatever street show's on offer.  I can even talk to people on the street or make comments to my husband about what's going on.  
  • I can stand in an alley with a group of friends. 
  • I can talk on a cell phone. 
  • I can, and have, driven around with a broken tail light, and for a while, without a front license plate (which wasn't required in the South). 
    • (NOTE:  In the last few years, people have been stopped, arrested, jailed, and even killed for doing each and every one of these things in the United States of America.)  

(Wikipedia)
But, for me, any and all of the above would have been risky behavior in Maricopa County under Joe Arpaio.  Maybe not for you, but for me.  Because of how I look.  

Pardon Joe Arpaio?  I wouldn't have, but what's worse is that he was convicted and then pardoned for a misdemeanor.

Did I mention his "special forces" that led a botched raid in which they firebombed a home to ashes and burned a puppy alive?  (See here)  And found nothing?

Did I mention that Joe Arpaio was/is one of the founders of the The Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA, for short) that believes that sheriffs are "the highest executive authority in a county and therefore constitutionally empowered to be able to keep federal agents out of the county"? And, as such, are not responsible to any federal law, agent, or judge?(See CSPOA and/or Southern Poverty Law Center on the movement.)

After all of that, a misdemeanor?  Unpardoned, the most he would have served would have been six months, maximum, and - sadly, tragically - it wouldn't have been in the Arpaio Maricopa County Jail.

Pardon him?  I sure as hell wouldn't have.  But then, I have skin in the game.


PS - Next week, back to quacks, radium and murder.

13 comments:

janice law said...

an excellent piece and unfortunately so timely!

Eve Fisher said...

Thanks, Janice!

Jerry Sweeney said...

Damn! I never gave your coloring a second thought. Yeahp, another flaw in my character. (Insert nerd emoji)

Elizabeth said...

I've never met a person with brown or black skin who hasn't been stopped by the police on suspicion of something.

Arpaio was born the same day as the Donald. They're both Geminis.

Steve Liskow said...

The most frightening fact about Arpaio--if you can pick one--is that he's so far beyond the boundaries that you can't even use him as inspiration in a book. I tell new writers to create a character that is 1/3 themself, 1/3 people they know or have seen, and 1/3 made up. But if you take anything from this bundle of bigotry and irrational hatred, people wouldn't believe it.

Great post, Eve. But now I need to go find some mindless fun, like kitten pictures on Facebook.

Eve Fisher said...

Steve, I know how you feel. Kittens or baby ducks.

Herschel Cozine said...

Eve ,as a Caucasian male I have never had a problem with prejudice and having been raised in a "whites only" town, I never was exposed to it. The first encounter was in basic training, and as naive as I was I didn't recognize it for what it was. We had a black man in our troop. He was "disciplined" daily for infractions that never happened. I thought he must have been violating rules as there could be no other reason for the punishment. (How naive can one be?) Years later, as I looked back on it, I realized the truth. I think there are people today who don't comprehend racism since they are never targets.

It sickens me to see Arpaio get away with this. We have a bigoted POTUS who relishes his power and doesn't hesitate to abuse it. I can't wait for Mueller's report! Excellent article.

R.T. Lawton said...

Eve, I've always tried to treat people as people and judged them on how they acted and how they treated me. It was my experience in the army and in DEA that your own welfare often depended on the soldier or agent going in with you, so you'd best be on equal and good terms with that person, if nothing else. Only a fool plays the better-than-thou card. Unfortunately, there's a lot of fools out there, and we keep on running into them.

It's been more than 25 years since I heard Sheriff Joe speak at a US Marshal's game feed in Sioux Falls. That was before he promoted himself to god. Power tends to corrupt when someone has a moral deficiency anyway. You may also remember Sheriff Hawkey in Minnehaha County about 22 years ago (he was also at the same game feed) who also promoted himself to god and went to prison for misuse of prisoners for personal ventures. Hawkey just didn't have a bigger self-made god to pull him out of his own mess like Joe did or does.

Eve Fisher said...

Herschel, I think one of the great problems with the term "racism" today is that people WANT to think it only means running around with KKK hoods on, or swastikas, or something like that. Sadly, the common every day racism - like someone I knew who started telling Native American "jokes" - goes below the radar.

R.T., oh yes. Sheriff Hawkey. What really amazes me about people cheering for Hawkey and Arpaio is that they really don't think THEY have skin in the game; and yet, with our US prison/jail population, everyone knows someone who is or has been inside. Do they really want their loved ones treated like that? Or themselves? But apparently, a number of people just aren't cursed with self-awareness.

Jeff Baker said...

Eve, a friend of mine (who has described himself as "an Israeli-American half-breed" in his journalist's bio) has reacted to the anti-Middle Eastern bigotry by reminding people that he is "a light-skinned Arab." He had his DNA checked recently and found he is also partly Chinese, Latino, Black and a little of every ethnicity you could name! So, more power to you Eve!

Eve Fisher said...

Jeff, I'm so happy about DNA checks. For one thing, it proves that most white supremacists have more black blood than I do, not that they can stomach that.

Thomas Pluck said...

Great piece, thank you for writing it. As an Eye-talian American I've gotten plenty of stares in some parts of the country, including "liberal" Minnesota where they still call a sausage and pepper hoagie "a greasy dago" sandwich...
And Arpaio is a disgrace who used the Constitution like toilet paper, and deserves to serve his final days in a nice, clean, professionally-run prison.

Fran Rizer said...

Eve, I am so sorry that you and so many others have endured this kind of behavior. Living in the South my entire life, I've seen a lot of what you describe. I've never experienced it personally, probably because I was a natural redhead with green eyes. (I am now a natural platinum blond with green eyes.) Your blog brought to mind some experiences from long ago when I was a fairly young teacher. One of my best students was the child of an exchange student here from Africa. I frequently took her to the library and book stores as well as local and school events. She and I discussed that when this thirteen-year-old went places with me wearing jeans and "American" clothing, people glared at us. When she wore traditional African garb, people smiled at us.