Here in Phoenix, we’ve got a pretty good idea of what lies ahead for America under Donald Trump. It will look less and less like a nation of laws, and more like Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s lawless Arizona, unless we do something about it now.
Arpaio was Maricopa County’s corrupt sheriff for twenty-four years. During his reign, immigrants and their families were hounded and humiliated. He arrested Latinos because of their names and the color of their skin. He organized an illegal posse to raid workplaces, supermarkets and churches, ripping mothers and fathers away from their families, purely on suspicion they were out of status.
Arpaio misappropriated funds, refused to investigate real crimes like rape, and forced detainees to wear pink underwear in an open-air desert compound.
He bragged about spending more to feed his dogs than he did on food for detainees.
We know the damage racism and xenophobia can inflict, because we have lived it ourselves.
Last month, a Federal Court convicted Arpaio of criminal contempt. Finally, we felt, Sheriff Joe was being held to account for violating the rule of law he had so long claimed to uphold.
But for Arizonans, our real victory came six months earlier, when we voted Sheriff Joe out of office. One of his successor’s first acts was to close Tent City, the notorious open-air prison Arpaio once proudly called a “concentration camp.”
For us at Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA), these victories were the culmination of a decade of organizing, alongside grassroots allies and affected community members. I started organizing against Sheriff Joe in 2007 as a volunteer, when I began to see the effects Arpaio’s fear tactics were having on immigrant families like my own.
Since 2010, LUCHA’s efforts have been focused on voter registration and building political power in the community, to make sure our voices are heard.
When the community Arpaio had terrorized for so long took to the streets and moved Arizona voters to take him out at the ballot box, we were saying, “we’ve had enough of this bully and his violence in our community, and we won’t take it anymore.”
Then Donald Trump came to town, and all but promised to pardon Sheriff Joe. “I think he’s gonna be just fine,” Trump told his rally at the Phoenix Convention Center. “But, but, I won’t do it tonight because I don’t want to cause any controversy. Is that ok? But Sheriff Joe can feel good.”
I was one of the thousands who gathered outside the Convention Center during Trump’s speech to peacefully protest his message of hatred and division.
When we heard there might be a pardon for Arpaio, we were outraged. But to tell the truth, we weren’t shocked. Because we already knew not to put anything past this president.
The thousands who gathered peacefully in Phoenix were sending a clear and simple message to Trump: “We want you to follow the rule of law.”
Let’s sit with that for a second.
The community, our community, was telling a sitting president – the President of the United States, our president – to follow the rule of law, when he has demonstrated time and time again that he does not care what voters say, that he does not care what the judicial system says.
Arpaio’s abuses set the groundwork for Trump’s national agenda. We now see the results. In just six months, the Trump presidency has brought white supremacy out of the shadows, emboldened racists, and families torn apart.
Sadly, Arpaio’s culture of hate and racism is still embedded in our county. Despite our victories, the collaboration between Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and our county jails is very vivid. Vulnerable members of our community continue to be criminalized and separated from their families.
We know the damage racism and xenophobia can inflict, because we have lived it ourselves. We do not need a repeat of the harsh years under Arpaio, when our community could not step foot outside, when our families’ homes were raided, when we saw their faces pressed up against glass windows on a bus that would rip them away from their family.
Don’t let Arpaio’s Arizona become Trump’s America.
Trump is carrying out an agenda that’s supremacist, racist, and filled with hate. Our community, together with many others, is not going to stand for it.
By Alejandra Gomez
Alejandra Gomez is co-director of Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA).