Jul. 20, 2008
Last week, after we learned that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio was being sued by four U.S. citizens who say he engaged in racial profiling during his crime sweeps, and that among those supporting the complaint is the American Civil Liberties Union. I suggested in a blog for azcentral.com that Arpaio's response should be, "Thank you."
The sheriff is less interested in a court of law than the court of public opinion. And as a politician looking to get re-elected, he knows that nothing provides a bigger campaign boost than being attacked by the ACLU. Or perhaps being accused of profiling Latinos.
That's why Arpaio said of the lawsuit, "I feel very comfortable on how we operate. We'll see them in court and in the meantime, I'll continue my job. Nothing's stopping me."
The suit originally was filed late last year in U.S. District Court. It was amended to add the four U.S. citizens who say that they were stopped and harassed by sheriff's deputies because they are Latino.
The lead attorney for the suit is David Bodney, who represents The Arizona Republic on First Amendment issues. (We'll get to how the conspiracy theorists feel about that later.)
Internet readers who responded to the lawsuit blog are not people who mince words, though their targets (me, for instance) might say that they are more than willing to slice, dice, chop and cube.
Still, while they are blunt, they also are genuinely engaged, so I contacted Bodney and asked him about some of their concerns.
For example, one man wrote, "I don't understand how we are supposed to find the illegals if we can't check people who look illegal."
Bodney responded, "It's not reasonable to assume that everyone with brown skin is a potential undocumented person. That's the big disconnect. It's now open season on persons based on skin color. That is unconscionable in a nation of laws."
Other readers suggested that a person who has nothing to hide should have no problem being stopped and asked about his citizenship, even if it's only because he fits a "profile."
"In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, I can see giving law enforcement greater authority to profile with some measure of factual accuracy where there is a tremendous risk of catastrophic harm," Bodney said. "That is not the case here. They are not looking for shoe bombers or terrorists. They are sweeping down into communities and pulling over drivers based on skin color. That's not the same."
The attorney said that he understands the anxiety people have about illegal immigration, but that we shouldn't allow our worries to diminish or destroy individual rights.
"I think there is a toxic combination out there now," he said. "It is fear and financial distress. But once this becomes a nation of Joe Arpaios and not a nation of laws, it's all arbitrary and capricious enforcement. And you have to ask yourself, 'Who's next? "
Savvy Internet readers didn't miss the fact that Bodney has done work for The Republic. And though it was the newspaper that reported this connection, they were happy to extrapolate on what it may imply. One reader suggested that it means: "Montini has become nothing more than a lapdog for his employer."
He went on to state his belief that Arpaio's immigration sweeps were not racially motivated, adding this hypothetical scenario: "Consider if you were looking for a (criminal) who looked like Montini, would you stop people that looked like Danny DeVito?"
Of course not. You'd stop people who looked like George Clooney.
Reach Montini at firstname.lastname@example.org.