Phoenix does not suffer from the ravages of tornadoes or earthquakes. But the social and economic tempests surrounding Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio are increasing to a crescendo and rattling its political foundation. On May 30, Arpaio survived a recall attempt. Lilia Alvarez, a young, rising Latino politician in Phoenix and Director for the Respect Arizona-Recall Arpaio campaign, said, “It is a sad day,” when they failed to gather the needed 335,000 signatures. This is only the latest incident in a very bad year for Arpaio.
Despite Arpaio’s expressed desire to “get together with the Latino community,” since his re-election in November, relationships in Phoenix have worsened. Last week, Arpaio lost a judgment in a US District Court class-action lawsuit, accusing him of using racial profiling to target Hispanics.
Arpaio’s actions within his county prison walls are also under increased scrutiny. Millions of dollars have been expended on lawsuits brought by inmates and employees. A new book, Black and White in Stripes in Sheriff Joe’s Tents, by Kimberly Shedrick and Christopher Nolan, is the first behind-the-scenes expose of life for women county prisoners.
Shedrick is no “common criminal.” Through an unusual set of circumstances, this ASU graduate and lawyer found herself on the other side of the bars in 2009. While there and helping other inmates with their legal problems, she witnessed and documented suicide attempts, deaths, abuse and civil rights violations. May 30-June 1, 2013, she will be telling her story at BookExpo America in NYC.
Arpaio has reveled in his image as “The Toughest Sheriff in America,” since he was elected in 1992. At first, Phoenicians welcomed the Army veteran’s tough stances on men skipping out on child support or people abusing animals. Early antics, like pink underwear for convicts, amused many people nationwide.
But as the immigration issues in the Southwest intensified, Arpaio’s priorities and his image started to change. His raids on businesses, which netted US citizens along with undocumented workers, started to alarm residents and business owners. While he is still lauded by out-of-state tea partiers, in Phoenix, the tank he rides in during the annual parades now appears intimidating, instead of patriotic. He is even being blamed for hurting the economy and Phoenix’s appeal to everyone from tourists to relocating corporations to international students. Despite Arpaio’s vows to appeal, keep fighting, many Phoenicians now hope the soon-to-be-81-year-old’s sixth term will be his last.