By Abdus Sattar Ghazali
Civil rights groups and Democrats Friday condemned President Donald Trump’s decision to pardon former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted of disobeying a court verdict ordering his agency to stop racially profiling Latinos.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tweeted the move “makes a mockery of rule of law, & says communities of color can be targeted & abused w/ total impunity.”
Tom Perez, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, noted that Trump announced the pardon “during a natural disaster that could hurt millions.” “That’s not presidential, that’s a coward,” said Perez, who sued Arpaio while serving in the Obama Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
Arizona’s two Republican senators also expressed disappointment with the president’s decision. “Regarding the Arpaio pardon, I would have preferred that the President honor the judicial process and let it take its course,” Jeff Flake wrote on Twitter. In a statement, John McCain offered a blunter critique. “The president has the authority to make this pardon, but doing so at this time undermines his claim for the respect of rule of law as Mr. Arpaio has shown no remorse for his actions,” the state’s senior senator said.
A joint statement was issued by leading civil rights and racial justice organizations condemning Sheriff Joe Arpaio pardon. The statement said:
“For 24 years, Sheriff Joe Arpaio ruled Maricopa County with an iron fist. His desire to embody a “tough” image and quest for fame led Arpaio to become one of the most famous and nefarious Sheriffs in America. Entrusted with the safety and well-being of the over four million residents of Maricopa County, Arpaio instead turned the county into a breeding ground of humiliation, intimidation and racial profiling. And, his jails became inhumane facilities operating under a culture of cruelty. Communities were terrified by his illegal and mismanaged immigration enforcement, inmates died in his jails, and he used his leverage as a “law and order” proponent to become a heavy hitter in federal politics and raise vast sums for his reelection campaigns. A Presidential pardon of Joe Arpaio is a grave miscarriage of justice.”
‘In pardoning Joe Arpaio, Trump further clarifies his twisted view of what America should look like,” said Judith Browne Dianis, Executive Director of Advancement Project’s national office. “He envisions a country where white nationalists get a nod from the White House and rogue cops are encouraged to abuse their power and profile people of color. This move signals to police that even if the courts find them guilty of racial profiling, they will have the backing of the president of the United States. This is yet another drastic moral and leadership failure from Trump.”
The Joint Statement was issued by the following organizations: Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Pacific Islander American Health Forum, Heather McGhee, Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at UC Berkeley, National Congress of American Indians, National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA), National Urban League, PICO National Network, Race Forward, Race Research Action Council.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), one of Arpaio’s legal foes over the years, called Trump’s pardon a “presidential endorsement of racism.” The ACLU, said pardoning the former sheriff “would just be the latest injustice to befall the countless people wronged by his years of racism, lawlessness, and abuse.” Cecilia Wang, the deputy legal director of the ACLU, said the president “has chosen lawlessness over justice” and that the pardon amounted to “a presidential endorsement of racism.”
Interim NAACP president Derrick Johnson said in a statement: “In the wake of the riot in Charlottesville started by domestic terrorists, neo-Nazis and white supremacists, Trump has once again shown us his true colors and his support for racism and violence. By pardoning Arpaio, Trump has endorsed Arpaio’s abhorrent behavior and has opened the gates for other bigots to follow in his footsteps.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, today condemned President Trump’s pardon of former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio. In a statement, CAIR said: “The unconscionable pardon of Joe Arpaio once again sends the troubling message that Mr. Trump sees himself not as president of the United States, but as the leader of a resurgent racist movement within our nation. It is even more disturbing that President Trump would use the cover of a potential natural disaster impacting millions of Americans to avoid public scrutiny of his reprehensible action.
“Joe Arpaio must be held accountable for his long record of violating the civil rights of Maricopa County’s Latinx population, and carrying out a hate-filled agenda through extreme racial profiling,” said H Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Senior Vice President for Policy and Political Affairs JoDee Winterhof.
“During his tenure, Arpaio has attacked nearly every marginalized community, including using anti-LGBTQ schemes to humiliate inmates at his ‘Tent City’ prison. By pardoning Arpaio, Trump is again aligning himself with his nationalist, racist, anti-LGBTQ supporters — only two weeks after the violent extremism in Charlottesville.”
Arpaio additionally campaigned against the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provides much needed relief for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. DACA allows these young people to come out of the shadows and live fully within their communities — including 75,000 LGBT Dreamers.
The Hill pointed out that the pardon is Trump’s first since taking office, breaking a barrier relatively early in his tenure. “Almost two years passed before Barack Obama issued nine pardons to people convicted of relatively minor offenses; George W. Bush waited only a few days longer into his first term to erase convictions for selling moonshine and stealing $11. But Trump eschewed his predecessors’ modest lead, instead wiping clean a guilty verdict for criminal contempt of court for one of his staunchest political supporters after only eight months in office,” the Hill said adding:
“Arpaio, who left office in January, ranks among the most controversial law-enforcement officials in American history. Phoenix-area voters elected him six times to lead the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department, which he governed as a proto-Trumpian figure for almost a quarter-century. Arpaio’s harsh treatment of undocumented immigrants and criminal suspects brought him the adoration of Fox News viewers and multiple civil-rights lawsuits. He claimed former President Barack Obama’s birth certificate was a forgery even after Trump himself had publicly abandoned that stance. And he shared Trump’s disdain for the federal judiciary, frequently castigating the judges who oversaw lawsuits against him.
“His extreme treatment of prisoners and detainees drew widespread condemnation and allegations of racial bias. A 2011 Justice Department report concluded that Arpaio engaged in “unconstitutional policing” by systematically targeting Latinos for racial profiling. That same year, in response to a lawsuit, a federal judge ordered Arpaio to stop detaining and harassing residents of largely Latino neighborhoods. He ignored the order and continued to perform sweeps, claiming they were lawful. The judge charged him with civil contempt in 2015 and criminal contempt, a misdemeanor offense, the following year. A federal court found him guilty in July.”
Trump’s pardon comes before that legal process against Arpaio had finished: His sentencing hearing was scheduled for October, where he faced a maximum of six months behind bars.
According to the Hill, Trump’s pardon of Arpaio will likely rank among the most controversial exercises of the power. Other presidents have used it to absolve pirates, participants in tax rebellions, ex-Confederates, polygamous Mormons, socialists, anarchists, rumrunners, Puerto Rican nationalists, Vietnam War draft-dodgers, and Jimmy Hoffa. But only rarely has it been used to absolve a prominent political backer—much less one as divisive as Arpaio.
Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America (www.journalofamerica.net) email: asghazali2011 (@) gmail.com