There’s a great deal to be said about Donald Trump’s pardon for criminal racist Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Arizona’s Maricopa County, found guilty of criminal contempt for refusing to comply with a court’s order that he stop unconstitutionally profiling Latinx people.
As ColorLines‘ Catherine Lizette Gonzalez (8/28/17) reminds, Arpaio also reinstated chain gangs, ran an outdoor tent city jail he himself described as a “concentration camp,” denied women detainees menstrual hygiene products, and put people in solitary confinement if they didn’t understand instructions in English. He ran a 24-hour webcast featuring pretrial detainees being arrested, strip-searched and held in cells, until that was ruled illegal by the courts. Twenty-four percent of the deaths in Arpaio’s jails were deemed to be suicides—almost three times New York City’s rate, and four times the rate in Cook County, Illinois. And while he was busy illegally harassing people of color, he failed to investigate more than 400 cases of sexual assault, including on children.
One of the things that should also be noted is how corporate media aided and abetted the man outlets like CNN and NPR introduced with his own preferred sobriquet of “America’s Toughest Sheriff” (Extra!, 6/09). Remember when he had his own show on Fox‘s Reality Channel: Smile…You’re Under Arrest, in which nonviolent offenders were “pranked” into getting arrested for viewers’ amusement? Arpaio was a frequent guest of CNN‘s Lou Dobbs, and had a chummy relationship with Larry King.
But, as reporter Aura Bogado wrote for FAIR (Extra!, 6/09), while Arpaio was a cable TV favorite, the Latinx people his policies targeted were not. Over a year, Bogado found, Arpaio appeared on cable TV at least 21 times, while Latinx people were included in the conversation just twice.
In one illustrative instance, on the CNN show State of the Union (2/15/09), host John King said, “We sat down with Sheriff Arpaio this week while we were here in Arizona, but we also talked to a woman named Rubi, who is in this country illegally and recently lost her job. Let’s listen for just a second.” Rubi got a chance to say she came to this country to work and live with dignity. But not much more, because CNN thought she and everyone she represented deserved “just a second.”
The Arizona Republic (8/25/17) editorialized that Arpaio’s pardon “was a sign of pure contempt for every American who believes in justice, human dignity and the rule of law.” And they aren’t wrong. But media might also use this incident to examine their own role in giving a pass and a platform to a person who gleefully purposefully flouted the law in order to carry out a racist campaign.