20,000 march to protest anti-immigrant sheriff

PHOENIX – Brown, black and white, young and old, more than 20,000 people marched here Jan. 16 to protest the indiscriminate attacks and race-based raids conducted by Sheriff Joe Arpaio against residents of Maricopa County. United Farm Workers union leader Dolores Huerta and singer Linda Ronstadt were among the participants.

The sheriff has conducted these raids based upon the hated “287(g)” regulation that allows his county officers to work with federal officials based upon phony allegations of terrorism. “These raids are criminalizing entire communities,” Salvador Reza, president of the committee that organized the march here, said at a press conference Saturday before the event. “We cannot move forward on immigration rights unless we address human rights,” he said.

It was a national day of action. Buses and vans arrived from all over the country for the noontime march. In addition to places like Los Angeles, San Diego and San Jose, Calif., El Paso, Texas, Las Cruces N.M., and Tucson, Ariz., contingents came from as far away as New York, Chicago, Washington D.C., Oregon, New Orleans and Miami.

After a rally at Falcon Park marchers proceeded past the sheriff’s prison, which has been condemned by Amnesty International for its brutal treatment of prisoners. Marchers carried signs reading, “No More Hate,” “We are Human” “and Si Se Puede.” Anther rally was held across from the prison.

Maricopa County Board of Supervisors member Mary Rose Wilcox pointed out that “our community is more important than Joe Arpaio” and vowed, “We will stop him!”

Linda Ronstadt told the crowd that Arpaio only breeds divisiveness and “it’s time for him to go.”

Legendary Farm Workers leader Dolores Huerta called for a halt to the incarceration of children and said the money needs to be spent on education instead. She called for the defeat and removal of public officials like Arpaio and those who support his policies.

Former Phoenix City Councilman Calvin Goode called on President Obama to do something about the human rights situation in Maricopa County.

Sheriff Arpaio is currently under federal grand jury investigation on charges that include abuse of power in targeting and retaliating against government officials who oppose his policies. Two years ago he offended the bordering city of Mesa when he raided City Hall unannounced. The nearby town of Guadalupe has suffered economically since the sheriff’s raids because people are afraid to go out shopping.

“He’s out of control, said Arizona Peace Council and march committee member Rob McElwain. “There is no accountability for his actions.”

Opposition to Arpaio is growing as evidenced by a Jan 14 Arizona Republic ad from 60 national African American religious leaders, including the Rev. Kazi Joshua of Pennsylvania, who say they are fed up with his policies.

As usual, corporate media are dwelling on an incident at the end of the march, when young anarchists reportedly threw rocks at police horses and the police rode horses into the crowd and pepper-sprayed people. One report said women and children were overcome by the spray.

But the real story was the mass peaceful march of 20,000. It was much like the big immigrant rights marches of 2006 when millions marched across the country, including the Phoenix 200,000 person march of April 6, 2006 on “Somos America (We are America) Day,” where “Today we march, tomorrow we vote” was the slogan.

Photo: Leading the Jan. 16 march, from right to left: musician Zack de la Rocha, right, civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, second from right, musician Linda Ronstadt, musician Jose Maria DeLeon Hernandez, Maricopa County Board of Supervisors member Mary Rose Wilcox, and others, in front of the Maricopa County Jail and courts complex. (AP /Ross D. Franklin)



Joe Bernick
Joe Bernick

Joe Bernick is the Director of Salt of the Earth Labor College, Tucson, Arizona.