Civil rights for all: DOJ files suit against Arpaio

I usually don't wade into immigration, and I'm not about to today. It's not because I don't have an opinion on immigration, being an immigrant myself. But as readers here know, I hate the pretense among many bloggers today of being an expert on everything, and I'm not about to take on that pretense. So no, I'm not about to write a big immigration piece.

But I am about to write a race piece. You're all familiar with Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County in Arizona - the guy with a vengeance against brown people, couched under pretend-enforcement of immigration laws. You may also know that the Justice Department has just filed suit against Arpaio, after a lengthy investigation, alleging racial profiling and the violation of civil rights of Latinos - who are mostly not only legally present, but are citizens of this country.

What? Yes. I know it may be hard for right wingers to believe, but brown people have been Americans for a long time. Nearly two-thirds of Latinos in America are born in this country, and 30% of the rest are naturalized US citizens. In other words, more than 4 in 5 Latinos in America are American citizens.

Why do I even have to say this? Because unfortunately even in the second decade of the 21st century, way too many people are convinced that racial profiling is the way to enforce our laws, protect our borders and safeguard our country. Whether it's black drivers stopped and harassed by law enforcement for no apparent crime other than driving while black, or the right wing support for harassing Arab and Muslim Americans at our airports, or stopping and targeting brown people in the name of "immigration enforcement," it is detrimental to the law (as groups targeted stop cooperating with police and stop reporting real crimes), and a grave violation of civil rights that all people are entitled to.

Today, the US Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Sheriff Arpaio alleging racial profiling of Latinos. The suit itself is damning, and it lays out specific charges and instances of Arpaio and his department singling out Latinos - in the vast majority of cases citizens or legal residents - for harassment, warrantless arrests and traffic stops for sport. Arpaio's department not only targeted Latinos during routine traffic stops and sweeps, they stopped cars with Latino drivers or passengers with no violation at all, and even in their own homes and workplaces. According to the filing from the DOJ, during sweeps at places of work, Arpaio's goons (my paraphrasing, not legal lingo), virtually always detained all Hispanic employees, including ones not named in the warrants for the sweeps. When they do detain someone in jail, Latinos with limited English proficiency are not given language assistance, and all Latino detainees are subject to derogatory, racist remarks from the employees of the Sheriff's department.

With respect to traffic stops, Latinos are anywhere from four to nine times more likely to be stopped than others for similar traffic behavior. Not only that, Arpaio and his department seems to be systematically targeting for traffic stops Latinos who don't actually violate any traffic laws. Here are a couple of examples outlined in the DOJ complaint:
In one instance, HSU officers stopped and detained a Latino driver and Latino passengers for a human smuggling investigation because they “appeared to be laying or leaning on top of each other” and “appeared, disheveled, dirty, or stained clothing [sic].”  However, MCSO pictures taken at the scene show neatly dressed passengers sitting comfortably in the rear of the vehicle.  
But but, they're Mexicans! The pictures must be lying.

Here's another:
In another instance, MCSO officers stopped a car carrying four Latino men, although the car was not violating any traffic laws.  The MCSO officers ordered the men out of the car, zip-tied them, and made them sit on the curb for an hour before releasing all of them.  The only reason given for the stop was that the men’s car “was a little low,” which is not a criminal or traffic violation.
Are you a Latina American citizen who wants to return to her own home? Not in Arpaio's county.
In another instance, during a crime suppression operation, two MCSO officers followed a Latina woman, a citizen of the United States, for a quarter of a mile to her home.  The officers did not turn on their emergency lights, but insisted that the woman remain in her car when she attempted to exit the car and enter her home.  The officers’ stated reasons for approaching the woman was a non-functioning license plate light.  When the woman attempted to enter her home, the officers used force to take her to the ground, kneed her in the back, and handcuffed her.  The woman was then taken to an MCSO substation, cited for “disorderly conduct,” and returned home.  The disorderly conduct citation was subsequently dismissed.
I am not going to go through every example of bone-chilling treatment of human beings (and in most instances American citizens) cited in the DOJ filing. You can read them yourself if you like. But suffice it to say that that the specific instances, along with the statistical patterns, show a reality of racial profiling, targeting and systematic violations of civil and Constitutional rights guaranteed to every person in the United States. Among the most important of those is the right to privacy and due process, and not the least of these is the equal protection of the laws, which requires that laws be applied in a fair, even handed, and equitable manner to all.

For his part, Sheriff Arpaio is crying foul and accusing the Justice Department of investigating and suing his department from political motivations. "They're using me for the Latino vote," he said. This is a little rich, I thought, given the fact that Arpaio himself counts on the support of racists and white-supremacists. But I suppose he is being used for the Latino vote, to the extent that Arpaio and his neo-nazi supports seem to believe that Latino citizens (and every other citizen of color) should have no right to vote at all, I guess him being held accountable might prevent Latino voters from being harassed on their way to the polls.

I'm glad the DOJ is coming after this guy. We need a president and a Justice Department that will protect the Constitutional rights of every person in this country, and hold those who violate those rights accountable. This is the right thing to do.

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