Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Cop vs. Cop: Sheriff and Mesa Chief spar over sweeps

One of the news reporters stated that the drama surrounding the sheriff’s sweeps in Mesa was like “Cop vs. Cop”. The news was more about the disagreement between county sheriff joe arpaio and mesa police chief gascon. If you watched some of the video footage, you could see arpaio so pissed you figure any moment he’s going to snap. He claims that gascon tried to stop him from doing his sweeps, although it’s not clear exactly how. Gascon claims that the sheriff was putting the people of mesa and his officers in danger, which I think is an interesting assertion. The cop on cop action overshadowed the real injustices occurring, yet anytime the cops are brawling, it’s usually a good thing for the people.


I was amazed at how convinced gascon was that a riot was going to break out due to the sheriff’s sweeps.
Mesa Police Chief George Gascón, citing growing concerns over possible civil unrest tied to anti-illegal immigration sweeps by Sheriff Joe Arpaio, is stepping up efforts to ensure public safety… [Sgt. Fabian] Cota said officers were recently told to make sure all their equipment was working properly including gas masks in the event of demonstrations. (Source).

The anxiety may in part have been due to how heated things got in Phoenix during the second round of sweeps, which included a mysterious man bringing a gun to the demonstration/counter-demonstration (gascon referenced Guadalupe as well, but there was hardly a protest, much less a riot there). I imagine it has to do with the fact that Gascon was an LAPD sergeant when the LA riots of 1992 broke out, which is also probably why he wanted so much to avoid a riot. Unless of course, he wasn't trying to avoid it. As one commentator on phoenixanarchist.org said, "For someone who doesn't want a riot, he sure does talk about it alot..."
Either way, I wouldn’t claim I could know whether or not a riot would happen, but I am surprised at how sure of it he was. I overheard an officer talking about the possibility of the vehicles near the protest site getting damaged.

There are several factors that could play into things getting heated again. That includes large numbers of racist counter-protesters. For the mesa sweeps, however, Riders USA, via immigrationbuzz.com, urged their members and members of other anti-immigrant groups not to show up, so the MCSO “can concentrate on performing their duties efficiently and most importantly safely”. It seems they also realize they contribute to an unsafe situation. A few anti-immigrant protesters showed up anyway. Back in April, Gascon also expressed his concern about a group of about 15 raucous pro-Arpaio demonstrators in early April, soon after Arpaio announced he’d be heading to Mesa.

Mesa PD are also in a unique position as far as information goes, because they had a Mesa PD officer undercover in white-supremacist groups.
Detective Matt Browning of the Mesa Police Department said he spent 12 years working undercover with three border militia groups and six White-supremacist organizations in Arizona, who he said are some of the "most violent, racist skinheads in the nation."

"Every meeting revolved around immigration," Browning said. (Source).

Yet, more amazing is how the Mesa PD talked about the possibility of violence being the sheriff’s fault. A man from the Mesa Police Association said, “Lives are in jeopardy, and MPA wants to prevent acts of violence and accidents from occurring. The Sheriff is creating a dangerous situation when emotions run high and weapons are involved.” Arpaio's Mesa crime suppression begins in new location. I have seen several clear examples of the cops initiating violence at mass gatherings, but usually it’s the people who are blamed for starting scuffles that are called “riots”. And despite the blow to Mesa PD’s ego caused by arpaio stepping on their turf and claiming they’re not doing their job, it’s really in the cops’ interest to maintain the concept that criminals start riots, not cops.

Although the media mostly makes it appear that Gascon prevented violence by causing the Sheriff to move out of the original location, Gascon’s preparation for the event was quite heavy-handed. Dozens of cops surrounded the medium-sized demonstration at the original site of the sheriff’s command unit. Police were equipped with pepper spray, riot gear, and there were SWAT units in hidden places. It seems that because nothing dramatic happened at the protest, that Gascon and/or the media purposely focused on Gascon’s preparation as it related to Arpaio. However, before the sweeps began, Gascon had a clear focus on demonstrators, as he said, in Gascon: Mesa ready if protesters turn out for crime sweep, “We had a group of people who have already been trained to deal with civil disobedience in handling crowd control. We've added some more people to that number and we have done some recent training…”

Arpaio was Pissed

Basically two things, from what I can determine, pissed Arpaio off. He claims Gascon leaked the information about the sweeps, and that Gascon was trying to prevent Arpaio from doing the sweeps by setting up a space for the protesters near the command center, and surrounding the area with mesa cops. The Feathered Bastard reported that Arpaio said, “The bottom line, he's doing everything to keep me from going into that city, lockin' up illegals." (Source).

Two other reports mentioned Arpaio’s attitude:

The Maricopa County sheriff blamed the city's police chief, George Gascón, for upstaging the event by creating safe places for protesters and having officers ready to quell violence should it break out. (Source).

Still, after the sheriff decided to change his game plan on Thursday and move deputies away from where protesters gathered, he blew up at Mesa's police chief and accused Gascón of actively seeking out media attention.
"We had to change our operation up because of all the hype," the sheriff said on Thursday night, adding that because of the "leak" he will not tell Gascón about future sweeps. (Source).

Funny, Arpaio said at a different time that he was trying to trick demonstrators by moving around.
… Arpaio said he intentionally stayed away from Mesa was to thwart the demonstrators.
"I wasn't afraid to go," Arpaio said. "The reason I did this was because they were waiting. I played a little game with them." (Source).

So which is it, Arpaio? And why does he think it’s okay to admit to playing games with the residents’ tax dollars?

Perhaps in private, Gascon has been more vocal about opposing Arpaio’s mission (you’d think there's something more that Arpaio is so pissed about), but he has not outright said that the sweeps are wrong. He has only criticized the sweeps as being a publicity stunt that could create danger for the people and the officers. He also critized the sheriff for not being cooperative and communicating with him. Also, Gascon was not the one who leaked the information about the sweeps. He actually found out from community members and the press before he got word from the sheriff. All this makes the sheriff look pretty paranoid.

Thus, compared to arpaio, gascon seemed like a good guy. Protesters apparently cheered for him. But i think it's very important to keep some things in mind. One, that he never said that enforcing immigration law was wrong, just that arpaio wasn't doing it preoperly. Additionally, what would have happened to protesters had things gotten heated? Mesa PD is known to kill people. (I plan to discuss the disconnect regarding police brutality and immigrant advocacy in a future post).

Today, news came out that the city of mesa is changing it's police policy (Source). It sounds similar to what the Phoenix PD recently adopted. Interestingly, phoenix mayor phil gordon initiated the change to that policy but is to some extent seen as a good guy for criticizing arpaio. Let us not be fooled into thinking these politicians are advocates for immigrants.

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