Rosa Maria Soto protests Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio outside the federal courthouse on July 19 in Phoenix. It was the first day of a trial that accuses Arpaio's office of racially profiling Latinos.
Rosa Maria Soto protests Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio outside the federal courthouse on July 19 in Phoenix. It was the first day of a trial that accuses Arpaio's office of racially profiling Latinos. Matt York/AP
Testimony is scheduled to end Thursday in the racial-profiling suit against Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The sheriff faces a class-action civil suit on behalf of Latino citizens and legal residents in Maricopa County.
The plaintiffs say deputies stopped and detained them because of the color of their skin. As lawyers fight Arpaio in the courtroom, activists outside are using the trial as a rallying point against the sheriff in his upcoming election.
Tomas Robles wears a white T-Shirt with a black and yellow rectangle on the front — kind of like a road sign.
"It's a shadow figurine of, basically, Joe Arpaio on his horse, running away. Because we're coming for him, and we're going to show him that we have power, and he can no longer attack our community," he says.
Above the drawing are the words "Adios Arpaio," the slogan for the campaign to register Latino voters. Robles is the campaign's field director.
About 100 people gathered in the blazing heat in front of the federal courthouse in Phoenix on Wednesday to announce more than 11,000 new Latino voters. Robles says volunteers are going door-to-door and to places where Hispanics shop, with a not-terribly-subtle pitch.
"The first thing we ask people is, 'How do you feel about Arpaio?' And if we hear that they're not for the sheriff, we register them to vote," he says.
The idea is to deny the sheriff a sixth term in office in November, even as he faces legal pressure in this civil trial and in another lawsuit brought by the Justice Department.
Swept Up In Coverage
It's common wisdom that most Latinos in Maricopa County know someone who has been stopped by sheriff's deputies in crime-suppression sweeps or employer raids. If they don't know someone personally, they've certainly heard the stories.
"It has widespread coverage," says Valeria Fernandez, a freelance reporter for CNN-Espanol and La Opinion newspaper.
Like other media, Spanish-language outlets have been covering Arpaio since he began his illegal immigration raids five years ago. But Fernandez says the Spanish-language media have often gone a step further, finding and interviewing those stopped in the raids.
"I think it's gotten contagious, because we're starting to see more and more stories in the mainstream media that have to do with the protagonists, you know — the people that are arrested, who they are," she says.
Those are some of the same people who brought the current racial-profiling lawsuit. Over the past few days, Arpaio's defense attorneys have been presenting deputies who dispute the plaintiff's claims that they were stopped because their skin is brown.
Arpaio Supporters Stand Strong
The plaintiffs have to prove systematic racial profiling in the Sheriff's Office before federal Judge Murray Snow will order the department to change its policies. That's not to say that Arpaio will suffer politically even if he loses the trial.
Bill Hart, policy analyst for the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University, says the sheriff's supporters will stick by him regardless.
"Arpaio is an example of somebody who has a very loyal following, and they're older people, they're very organized and they all vote," he says.
Republican Arpaio has no challengers in the primary this month. He's expected to face a Democrat and an independent in November. Arpaio's supporters are largely Republican and white. Right now, at least, they are the largest voting bloc in Maricopa County.