Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, Director of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council, issued the following statement in response to the Justice Department’s announcement that it would open a civil rights investigation into the fatal shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin:
“It is shocking that nearly 60 years after the murder of Emmett Till, a black teenager can be killed simply for walking down the street, and his killer not even tried. Trayvon Martin’s life was not expendable. Unfortunately, for many weeks local law enforcement acted as if it were.
“The Justice Department was right to open an investigation into Trayvon’s murder. All his family is asking for is their constitutional right to equal justice under the law, for our justice system to recognize the value of their son’s life. In 2012, that shouldn’t be too much to ask.”
African American Ministers Leadership Council, a program of People For the American Way Foundation, is an alliance of over 700 progressive African American clergy supporting social justice, civil rights, and reproductive health and justice.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio is something of a hero to the anti-immigrant Right. He was one of the most outspoken proponents of Arizona’s draconian anti-immigrant law last year, in a large part because he had already been using the racial profiling tactics it authorized for years. He delighted in punishing prisoners –including protestors of his tactics – by making them wear pink underwear, a practice he commemorated last month by giving Sarah Palin her very own pair. He briefly had his own reality TV show. He was courted by the Tea Party. GOP presidential candidates, including Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain vied for his endorsement, which he ultimately gave to Rick Perry before joining the candidate on the campaign trail.
Arpaio’s reckless flair for self-promotion and disregard for civil rights have been well-known for as long as he has had national fame. But today, the Justice Department released a long and scathing report detailing the Sheriff’s record of civil rights violations, including his discrimination against Latinos and non-English speakers, “excessive use of force” and “unlawful retaliation against individuals exercising their First Amendment right to criticize MCSO’s policies or practices.”
The AP outlines some of the most shocking allegations in the report:
The civil rights report said Latinos are four to nine times more likely to be stopped in traffic stops in Maricopa County than non-Latinos and that the agency's immigration policies treat Latinos as if they are all in the country illegally. Deputies on the immigrant-smuggling squad stop and arrest Latino drivers without good cause, the investigation found.
A review done as part of the investigation found that 20 percent of traffic reports handled by Arpaio's immigrant-smuggling squad from March 2006 to March 2009 were stops - almost all involving Latino drivers - that were done without reasonable suspicion. The squad's stops rarely led to smuggling arrests.
Deputies are encouraged to make high-volume traffic stops in targeted locations. There were Latinos who were in the U.S. legally who were arrested or detained without cause during the sweeps, according to the report.
During the sweeps, deputies flood an area of a city - in some cases, heavily Latino areas - over several days to seek out traffic violators and arrest other offenders. Illegal immigrants accounted for 57 percent of the 1,500 people arrested in the 20 sweeps conducted by his office since January 2008, according to figures provided by Arpaio's office.
Police supervisors, including at least one smuggling-squad supervisor, often used county accounts to send emails that demeaned Latinos to fellow sheriff's managers, deputies and volunteers in the sheriff's posse. One such email had a photo of a mock driver's license for a fictional state called "Mexifornia."
The report said that the sheriff's office launched an immigration operation two weeks after the sheriff received a letter in August 2009 letter about a person's dismay over employees of a McDonald's in the Phoenix suburb of Sun City who didn't speak English. The tip laid out no criminal allegations. The sheriff wrote back to thank the writer "for the info," said he would look into it and forwarded it to a top aide with a note of "for our operation."
Federal investigators focused heavily on the language barriers in Arpaio's jails.
Latino inmates with limited English skills were punished for failing to understand commands in English by being put in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day or keeping prisoners locked down in their jail pods for as long as 72 hours without a trip to the canteen area or making nonlegal phone calls.
The report said some jail officers used racial slurs for Latinos when talking among themselves and speaking to inmates.
Detention officers refused to accept forms requesting basic daily services and reporting mistreatment when the documents were completed in Spanish and pressured Latinos with limited English skills to sign forms that implicate their legal rights without language assistance.
The agency pressures Latinos with limited English skills to sign forms by yelling at them and keeping them in uncomfortably cold cells for long periods of time.
These allegations are disturbing enough in themselves. But what’s even more troubling is that the person behind them has been not only held up as a hero by the Right, but has served as an inspiration for immigration legislation around the country. In a report last year, we examined the ways the anti-immigrant Right has worked to dehumanize immigrants in order “to inflame anti-immigrant sentiment and build political opposition to comprehensive immigration reform.” It should come as no surprise that Sheriff Joe is the movement’s figurehead.
The Senate is currently debating the nomination of David Ogden to be Obama’s Deputy Attorney General. That, in itself, is telling. Ogden was expected to sail through the confirmation process, but by last week there was talk of a full-on filibuster.
It’s not easy to disrupt the confirmation of a widely respected attorney with previous government experience and bipartisan backing. It takes big lies and a big megaphone. But the Religious Right and its Senate allies managed just fine.
To hear Senator Orrin Hatch talk about it, you’d think that Obama had actually nominated Larry Flynt to be Eric Holder’s deputy: “The pornography industry is excited about Mr. Ogden’s nomination.”
But that’s nothing. Here’s how the executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition summed up Ogden: “He will be a great ally for advocates for death and homosexuality inside the Justice Department.”
Bear in mind, they’re talking about a man who enjoys the backing of the National District Attorneys Association, National Association of Police Officers, Fraternal Order of Police, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and many others. He even won the support of Republican Senators Specter, Graham, and Kyl in committee.
Ogden’s right-wing antagonists don’t care about any of that. They’ve latched onto a handful of cases involving abortion and obscenity from his many years as a corporate lawyer and have distorted them beyond all recognition. Ogden, for instance, represented the American Library Association in its fight against overzealous internet filtering and the American Council for the Blind over whether the Library of Congress should make a Braille version of Playboy, as was the practice for other popular periodicals.
These cases had very real First Amendment implications. But never mind that. His old casework is enough for the Traditional Values Coalition to call him a “pro-pornography zealot.” Concerned Women for America has even speculated that his nomination might mean that the “United States will also fund the international production and distribution of pornography.”
These smears reached hundreds of thousands – perhaps millions – of Americans via right-wing cable news, talk radio, and blogs. Senate conservatives took notice, hence the five ‘no’ votes in the committee and the grumbling about a filibuster. In fact, Senator Majority Leader Reid was forced to file cloture on the vote.
Ogden will surely be confirmed when the Senate finally votes on his nomination today (around 2 pm). But the outlandish rhetoric from the far right and the willingness by conservative Senators to play along are sure signs of what’s to come.
This editorial memorandum examines how U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft has failed to pursue a responsible and balanced approach to achieving security and preserving liberty, but has promoted legislation and instituted policies at the Department of Justice (DOJ) that could threaten civil liberties and undermine civil rights for years to come. These recent actions continue a dangerous trend that was already evident in his first six months on the job.