Saturday, December 5, 2009

Race and the Rule of Law in Maricopa County

So many people are thinking it: Arpaio and his collaborators are putting the law into question, especially with the latest lawsuits and the disproportionate ways in which the laws have been enforced. After the stories on the singing protest of Arpaio that caused him to walk out on an interview, a news search for Arpaio will give you these stories: Arpaio and County Attorney Andrew Thomas are suing several judges and other county officials, and an MCSO officer recently got jail time for contempt of court for not apologizing for stealing files from a defense lawyers folder (and the resulting chaos involving a walk-out and a bomb threat, and the likelihood that the officer is in Arpaio's fancy jail for his allies).

When you hear statement after statement from the sheriff and county attorney and others that they're enforcing the law- that undocumented people are stopped/jailed because they're breaking the law, and then on top of that they all seem confused about what is actually legal or illegal and law-breaking cops get different treatment, you can't help but find that they are amazingly hypocritical.

What I'm getting at certainly isn't that we should be concerned that the sheriff and county attorney and others are making a mockery of law enforcement or the rule of law in general. The purpose of bringing these things up in relation to immigration is to point out that the rule of law is and always has been used to work in certain people's favor- those in power and with money, and to work against anyone who is a threat to holding onto that power and money. It's not quite as simple as that when you have a local sheriff giving a big middle finger to the federal and local governments- certainly they don't all work together.

Arpaio consistently says he's enforcing the law. Yet, he apparently doesn't even know what law he's talking about, and belongs to the camp that is looking for new ways to change the law to further criminalize migrants. At the same time he says things like, "This is yet another example of my continued promise to enforce all the illegal immigration laws in Maricopa County regardless of the ever changing policies emanating from Washington D.C."

And what about the latest shenanigans with the MCSO officer?
On Wednesday, the morning after a sheriff's detention officer reported to jail to serve a contempt of court sentence, 20 of his colleagues called in sick for work at the Maricopa County Superior Court Buildings in Phoenix.

Those same buildings were evacuated for three hours Wednesday morning when a bomb threat was called in targeting public defenders, the Arizona Republic reported. (Source).
(Gee, they wouldn't have called in a threat to prove a point, would they?)
Arpaio says he's an equal opportunity enforcer of the law. How can you not see the inconsistency?

It's not inconsistent, however, with the way law enforcement has been used to enforce the color line. We can see this with their origins in the slave patrols, the relationship between the klan and the police, to, for example, the death of Fred Hampton forty years ago, other efforts against groups that empower their communities, as well as the drug war, racial profiling, and now the anti-immigrant efforts. As I state in No Borders or Prison Walls,
The war against “illegal” immigration is just one part of institutional racism, except this is an example that makes it all the more clear that crimes have been made out of the actions of people because of who they are. It is clear that the law has been used purposefully to render people powerless and exploitable.
Although the lawsuits against other county officials don't quite fit into this whole concept, it is allowed to happen because the other activities of the MCSO are congruent with the larger purpose of government control (see also, Federal Government will not be Maricopa County's Savior).

In Our Enemies in Blue, Kristian Williams expands on the fact that sometimes the police and the government are at odds, and why this is still acceptable. Talking mainly about police brutality, he says,
The police may violate the law, as long as they do so in the pursuit of ends that people with power generally endorse, and from which such people profit. This idea may become clear if we consider police brutality and other illegal tactics in relations to lawful policing: When the police enforce the law, they do unevenly, in ways that give disproportionate attention to the activities of poor people, people of color and others near the bottom of the social pyramid. And when the police violate the law, these same people are their most frequent victims. This is a coincidence too large to overlook. If we put aside, for the moment, all questions of legality, it must become quite clear that the object of police attention, and the target of police violence, is overwhelmingly the portion of the population that lacks real power. And this is precisely the point: police activities, legal or illegal, violent or non-violent, tend to keep people who currently stand at the bottom of the social hierarchy in their place, where they belong- at the bottom.
I've heard some say that Arpaio isn't racist, he's just a in it for the media and the power. Yet Arpaio (and Andrew Thomas, and Russell Pearce, and ICE, etc.) is participating in the criminalization and the incarceration and terrorization of people of color. Institutionalized racism benefits those in power. Whether or not they are bigoted or not, they participate in it, and they gain from it, at the expense of people's lives and dignity. And if they are okay with that and even celebrate it, how can you not call them racist?

Yet, they maintain that it's all about the law. The law, or the importance of enforcing it, often comes down to what undocumented immigrants are allegedly costing us as citizens (for an example, see Russell Pearce's latest). Yet, how much are all these lawsuits costing us? How about Andrew Thomas’ Battle Against Spanish-Language DUI Probation Has Cost Us a Half-Million Dollars. But Who's Counting? And lawsuits against Arpaio have cost at least $41 million (Source). That's not even counting the cost of the lawsuits he's brought against others. And all the investigations into various opponents of his. And all the sweeps. And his expensive office in the Wells Fargo building costing $650,000 per year in rent when he already has an office in a county building.

We don't even need to ask why it's apparently okay with so many citizens that these officials are wasting our tax dollars but not okay for undocumented immigrants to allegedly cost us so much (which is actually quite doubtful). The money argument is illegitimate and the rule of law crap is bogus. We can see what is behind this. An eminent threat: too many brown people and an undermining of the oppressive order of things. This is why we must challenge white people on their racism. We need to point out the areas that are inconsistent and hypocritical. They themselves might not see it. It's up to us to understand it and to make them understand it. (For a recent discussion of this in context, see The NSM offers nothing for the white working class but more exploitation and misery.) I'll leave you with this quote from senator Russell Pearce.

There is currently a battle raging in this country that will determine whether our nation enforces its immigration laws and secures its borders or becomes victim of its enemies. We are a Nation built upon the “Rule of Law” and either we stand up for the principles that our Founding Fathers gave us to ensure lasting Liberty, enshrined in a Constitution that protects those liberties or we destroy all that is sacred and the end result will be a nation who commits suicide. Illegal immigration is the Trojan Horse and we must secure our borders and enforces our laws.

No comments:

Post a Comment