Yesterday I noted a chilling and under-reported story carried by the NY Times to the effct that a) Michael Chertoff has been granted godlike powers by Congress, and b) the rationale for this — “security over all” — is eerily dictatorial.
It is well-acknowledged bad form to allude, even subtly, to Central Europe in the early central third of the 20th Century as a form of name-calling. On the other hand, “never again” means “never forget,” and that includes the symptoms. Early symptoms of that-to-which-we-say-never-again include
a) godlike powers in some domains for some government officials,
b) security as the primary goal of government,
c) a marginalized segment of the population, and
d) tolerated and even admired displays of public bullying of that marginalized population.
The New York Times follows up its reporting yesterday with a chilling editorial. The Times having covered symptoms a) and b) yesterday, this editorial covers symptoms c) and d).
To see how unhinged things have become, it pays to zero in on the squalid doings in Maricopa County, Ariz. It is home to Phoenix, the country’s fifth-largest city, and the largest 287(g) program anywhere.
It is run by the county sheriff, Joe Arpaio, who has built a national reputation for toughness through years of cruelty to prison inmates and an insatiable appetite for publicity. Where most departments have only handfuls of officers trained to enforce federal immigration laws, Sheriff Joe, as he is known, has 160. Their efforts are supplemented by what the sheriff says, without apology, is a 3,000-member “posse.”
For months now, Sheriff Joe has been sending squads of officers through Latino neighborhoods, pulling cars over for broken taillights or turn-signal violations, checking drivers’ and passengers’ papers and arresting illegal immigrants by the dozen.
Now Sheriff Joe isn’t any ordinary testosterone-crazed supercop. He’s a testosterone-crazed supercop with a national reputation. For those aspiring to such, here’s how it’s done.
Because he sends out press releases beforehand, the sweeps are accompanied by TV crews and protesters — deport-’em-all hard-liners facing off against immigrant advocates. Being Arizona, many of those shouting and jeering are also packing guns. Sheriff Joe, seemingly addicted to the buzz, has been filmed marching down the street shaking hands with adoring Minutemen.
If this doesn’t look to you like a carefully regulated, federally supervised effort to catch dangerous criminals, that’s because it isn’t. It is a series of stunts focused mostly on day laborers, as Sheriff Joe bulldozes his way toward re-election.
Re-election. Oh. Elections make candidates do funny things: eat ethnic foods, bowl gutterballs while wearing a tie, brutalize people whose skins are a shade darker than yours…
But Sheriff Joe is an expensive fellow to keep around. Lawsuits against his chronic brutality have cost taxpayers $41 million (and counting). Not to mention the cost of mucking things up operationally for everyone else.
Mayor Phil Gordon of Phoenix has denounced him, saying the raids are interfering with undercover city police officers and federal agents. The mayor of Guadalupe implored him to leave her community alone. State and county officials have pointed out that Sheriff Joe has ignored tens of thousands of outstanding criminal warrants while chasing day laborers and headlines. They say he has grossly violated the terms of his 287(g) agreement — which calls for federal oversight of local police — and have called on Washington to rein him in.
Sheriff Joe understands the difficulty. Not!!
“Do you think I’m going to report to the federal government?” he said. “I don’t report to them. If they don’t like the contract, they can close it up. That’s all.”
“By the way,” he said, “we do have a 3,000-person posse — and about 500 have guns. They have their own airplanes, jeeps, motorcycles, everything. They can only operate under the sheriff. I swear ’em in. I can put up 30 airplanes tomorrow if I wanted.”
Whoa whoa whoa. Cop outta control!! Red Alert! Somebody! Somebody?
The federal government so far seems unconcerned.
“He has stayed within the bounds of the agreement,” Matthew Allen, special agent in charge of immigration and customs enforcement in Arizona, told The Arizona Republic. Jim Pendergraph, an I.C.E. official from Washington, told the paper that after driving to Guadalupe to watch Sheriff Joe in action: “I saw nothing that gave me heartburn.”
When the-god-Chertoff is in his heaven, all’s not right with the world. It’s 1938 in Amerika. Pay attention. Congress may look into it, as the editorial demands. But with Bush in charge, they likely won’t get too far. That’s why we must bear witness.