In the state of Arizona, few public figures are more popular than Joe Arpaio, the Maricopa County sheriff.
A tough-talking Republican who calls himself “America’s toughest sheriff,” Arpaio has gained fame for his unorthodox (to be polite) approach, which includes forcing inmates to wear pink underwear and housing them in outdoor tents during his state’s notorious 110-degree summers. Throughout his tenure he was run regular sweeps through his district’s heavily Hispanic areas, arresting people for the most minor of indiscretions, then finding the illegals and having them deported. When he was told he must cease the practice, he responded by doing it again and again and again. “I wanted to show everybody it didn’t make a difference,” Arpaio said of the Obama administration’s order.
In today’s Los Angeles Times, Nicholas Riccardi writes a rivetingâ€”and chillingâ€”profile of the man; a profile that screams to conservative Americans MAY YOU BE DAMNED TO GET WHAT YOU WISH FOR!
What’s most frightening about Arpaio is that he’s belovedâ€”he won his last election with 55 percent of the votes, and, according to the Times, polls well in the next governor’s race (should he choose to run). As soon as I read the Times piece I was reminded of Bull Connor, perhaps the most notorious law man in modern American history and a person who stands as the model of what happens when officials hold excessive sway. Back in the 1960s, when Connor was Birmingham’s public safety commissioner, law enforcement agencies were ordered to suppress black uprisings via any means necessary. Hence, all those black-and-white videos and photographs and dogs and hoses and clubs. That was Connor, and it sounds a helluva lot like Arpaio.
Really, both men are the result of anger and insecurity running amok; of people fearing the unknown and fighting back with unnecessary, unconstitutional uses of force. Many conservatives I know deem this sort of response as a necessary way to safeguard democracy.
I, on the other hand, consider it to be the death of democracy.