In late July 2017, the unthinkable happened: Joe Arpaio, former longtime sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, was convicted of criminal contempt. Throughout his career, the controversial sheriff had managed to evade consequences for his underhanded tactics time and time again. When he lost his bid for reelection in November 2016, many believed that the days of racial profiling and other injustices would soon be over. They thought that perhaps the tide was turning and that the good guys would start coming out ahead. His conviction was going to be the icing on the cake, but then something even more unthinkable happened: He was pardoned.
With any other presidency, the pardoning of Joe Arpaio would have been downright incomprehensible, and it would have caused a furor across the nation and media. However, because Donald Trump is president, no one is particularly surprised. After all, this is the man who ran on a campaign promise of building a wall with Mexico to keep illegal immigrants out. He also tried instituting a travel ban that was dubbed the “Muslim ban” since it clearly singled out people who are Muslim and is therefore considered to be a racist policy.
In addition to all of that, Arpaio and Trump have a history together. At least, they have made it clear through the years that they agree with one another. After Barack Obama took office, Donald Trump was among the ringleaders of the “birther movement,” which unfairly alleged that Obama had not been born in the U.S. but had in fact been born in Kenya. To no one’s surprise, Sheriff Joe quickly became a vocal proponent of Trump and the birther movement. Since he gave Trump his support then and during his election bid, it appears that Trump has repaid those favors by letting him off the hook for his despicable behavior.
Although Arpaio served as sheriff of Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, for 24 years, he was known far outside of Phoenix and even the southwest. He’s described himself as “America’s Toughest Sheriff,” and by that he seems to refer to his tough anti-immigrant stance. Arpaio spent his career fighting against illegal immigration, and he and his office routinely flouted the law to do so. Arpaio also used his office to retaliate against those who opposed him, and actions like these are exactly what prompted the founding of the Frontera Fund.
The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and Joe Arpaio had a long-running feud with the Phoenix New Times, which was co-founded by Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin. The paper published Arpaio’s home address in a story in 2004. From that point forward, Arpaio made it his mission to destroy the paper. When he found out that he wouldn’t be able to prosecute them for publishing his address, he had his allies at the Maricopa County attorney’s office issue grand jury subpoenas searching for details about the paper’s writers, editors and even readers. Larkin and Lacey refused. Instead, they published a story exposing the sheriff’s office’s tactics.
The very night that their story was published, October 18, 2007, Larkin and Lacey were separately arrested at their Phoenix residences. Armed deputies from Sheriff Arpaio’s feared Selective Enforcement Unit rolled up in SUVs with Mexican plates and tinted windows and arrested both men, who were then detained at two separate jails that were under the management of Arpaio. This sparked a massive outcry, and the men were released within 24 hours. All charges against them were immediately dropped, but they weren’t going to take this treatment sitting down. Fortunately, they decided to fight back.
Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin engaged in a prolonged court battle regarding their treatment by Joe Arpaio and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. They alleged that their First Amendment rights were violated and that the sheriff had engaged in an egregious abuse of power. In 2012, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in their favor, noting that the case involved “public officials ordering the immediate arrests of their critics” and that there was “nothing subtle” about what transpired. In turn, Maricopa County reached a settlement with the two in 2013. They were awarded $3.7 million in damages.
Larkin and Lacey could have ridden off into the sunset with their windfall. Instead, however, they decided to use it for the greater good. They took the money and established the Frontera Fund in support of the rights of Hispanics, Latinos and immigrants–even illegal immigrants. The organization works to raise funds for non-profits that promote the civil rights of these minority groups. The ACLU is just one of the groups that has benefited from the organization’s work since its founding. Frontera Fund continues to fight to protect these people’s rights, and the fact that Sheriff Arpaio was pardoned only highlights the importance of this continued battle.
Many were looking forward to seeing Joe Arpaio sentenced to jail on October 5. Thanks to Trump’s pardon, however, that will no longer come to pass. Trump didn’t stop with simply pardoning the controversial sheriff, however. His administration also issued a statement about the pardon in which is heaped praise onto him. Indeed, the statement says that Arpaio spent his career protecting citizens from the “scourges of crime and illegal immigration.” It is obvious that Trump is giving a wink and a nod to his old friend and supporter, paying him back for promoting his birther theories about Obama.
Additionally, Trump went on Twitter to praise Arpaio even more. The former sheriff also apparently uses social media, as he reacted by tweeting his gratitude to Trump for the pardon. While these men are very much in the limelight, those who fight against their policies are hard at work behind the scenes. The Frontera Fund continues to be a strong force in the battle against the violation of minorities civil rights. As frustrating as the presidential pardon of Joe Arpaio may be, putting an 85 year old in jail wouldn’t be very productive. Instead, Larkin, Lacey and the Frontera Fund will take steps to prevent people like Arpaio from gaining power again in the future.
Read our previous story on Jim Larkin and Michael Lacey: http://www.phillypurge.com/2017/06/23/jim-larkin-michael-lacey-make-the-list-of-civil-rights-protectors/