Blog of Rights

Sheriff Arpaio, Racial Profiling is Illegal

By Alessandra Soler, ACLU of Arizona at 10:09am

As the immigration debate continues across Arizona, most pragmatic people seem to agree on a few undeniable facts: racial profiling is illegal. Stopping a motorist for no reason other than their skin color is wrong. Terrorizing American citizens under the guise of immigration enforcement is intolerable.

This week, a class action lawsuit brought by the victims of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s racial profiling practices will get underway. These proceedings will hopefully change the way Arpaio runs the Sheriff’s Office and prevent future instances of discrimination. Among our goals: helping deputies return to pursuing outstanding felony warrants and child rape cases that have been ignored for years, rather than being forced to detain law-abiding citizens for “traffic violations.”

The plaintiffs in this case are not seeking financial damages, but are focused solely on defending the fundamental civil rights enjoyed by all Americans – rights that have been illegally stripped from law-abiding Hispanic residents in Maricopa County. The trial will include the results of a detailed investigation during the past four years demonstrating that the Sheriff’s Office has systematically violated the rights of Hispanic residents in Maricopa County in the name of immigration enforcement. The constitutional standards of equal protection and the freedom to go about our business without police harassment were consistently ignored when the Sheriff’s Office began indiscriminate traffic stops without probable or even likely cause.   

The evidence will show a collection of racially-charged e-mails and citizen complaints to Arpaio’s senior management staff, which subsequently took action at the sheriff’s urging. The perpetual and relentless media campaign by the Sheriff’s Office vilifying Hispanics in the press before the larger community comes to a crescendo when he personally promises to go after “illegals” not involved in any crimes. The targeted traffic stops not only ensnare this sector of the population, they utilize the additional punishment of longer than normal detentions. The sum result of this policing strategy is a campaign of general intimidation and a specific terrorization of the very people they are sworn to protect.

The witnesses are real, their stories are compelling and the spotlight will shine on Arpaio’s dangerous and dysfunctional climate masquerading as effective community policing. His agency embodies everything that could and does go wrong when local police waste law enforcement resources targeting people solely because of their skin color. Arpaio’s racial profiling practices are illegal, impermissible under our Constitution, and simply un-American. They violate core American values of fairness and equality for all.

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