When my oldest son was in preschool, the teachers had a daily ritual where they would gather the kids in a circle and ask what each child was thankful for. After hearing a story about Martin Luther King, Jr., my son said, “I’m thankful I’m white.”
Though shocked to hear my four-year-old make such a statement, I could understand why he would come to the conclusion that being white was easier than being black, especially after hearing about black boys and girls having segregating drinking fountains, buses and schools.
As the MLK holiday approaches, I wonder if 20 years from now, little white boys will make that same statement after learning about the Arizona of today?
Make no doubt about it, this state is at a precipice in history, and how we move forward to address the civil rights violations in the sheriff’s department will determine how future generations view our state.
This is not a fight over the enforcement of immigration laws but rather a question of whether or not we will tolerate corruption and lawlessness among our elected officials. Those who wish to cast the Sheriff as a victim of a partisan administration are those who wish to put up a smokescreen around the seriousness of the Department of Justice’s findings of a “systematic disregard” of the Constitution.
But even if we toss the DOJ report aside, there’s still a case to be made for Sheriff Arpaio’s removal from office. It includes the loss of more than 150 million dollars in taxpayer monies to lawsuits and misallocated funds. It includes the arrest and intimidation of sitting judges, county officials and journalists. It includes women who were shackled during childbirth and legal residents jailed without cause. And it includes allowing rapists and child molesters to freely roam the streets and attack hundreds of women and little girls.
Just one of those injustices would be enough to remove an appointed official. But taken as a whole, the severity of those actions is almost beyond comprehension.
The Sheriff’s supporters are famous for saying, “What part of illegal do you not understand?” They should understand that putting one’s critics behind bars because they refuse to be intimidated is illegal, as is denying care to inmates because they cannot speak English.
The Sheriff’s supporters would like people to believe he is being targeted because he enforces all the laws. But rapists and child molesters are criminals too, and why has he chosen not to go after them?
If more than 400 women and little girls were sexually assaulted in Paradise Valley and the Sheriff’s office failed to investigate, do any of us honestly believe the Sheriff would still be in office? Would the Governor and her fellow state leaders remain silent if hundreds of conservative, upper class white families were the victims of rapists and child molesters?
Arizona’s leaders should take heed of the legacy of leaders who failed to act and sacrificed civil rights for political power. History does not judge them kindly.
Many of us too young to remember the Jim Crow South look back on that part of our nation’s history and wonder how and why people allowed those types of injustices to occur. One day, our children and grandchildren will be asking that same question, but this time they’ll be asking us, “What did you do in the face of injustice?”
Right now, many Arizonans can only answer, “Nothing.”