STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
OK. Testimony is scheduled to end today in the racial-profiling suit against Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The sheriff faces a class-action civil lawsuit. It was filed on behalf of Latino citizens and legal residents in Maricopa County, Arizona. The plaintiffs say deputies stopped and detained them because of the color of their skin. Now, as lawyers fight Arpaio in the courtroom, activists outside are using the trial as a rallying point against the sheriff in his upcoming reelection campaign. NPR's Ted Robbins reports.
TED ROBBINS, BYLINE: Tomas Robles wears a white T-shirt with a black-and-yellow rectangle on the front. It sort of looks like a road sign.
TOMAS ROBLES: 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.
ROBBINS: Above the drawing, the words: Adios Arpaio. That's the slogan for a campaign to register Latino voters.
ROBBINS: About 100 people gathered in the blazing heat in front of the federal courthouse in Phoenix Wednesday to announce they'd registered more than 11,000 new Latino voters. Tomas Robles is a field director for the campaign. He says volunteers are going door-to-door and to places where Latinos shop, with a not-terribly-subtle pitch.
ROBLES: So 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.
ROBBINS: 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.
It's common wisdom that most Latinos in Maricopa County know someone 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.
VALERIA FERNANDEZ: It has widespread coverage.
ROBBINS: Valeria Fernandez is a freelance reporter for CNN-Espanol and La Opinion newspaper. Like other media, Spanish language outfits have been covering Arpaio since he began his illegal immigration raids five years ago. But Fernandez says the Spanish-language media has often gone a step further, finding and interviewing those stopped in the raids.
FERNANDEZ: And 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.
ROBBINS: 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.
The plaintiffs have to prove systematic racial profiling in the Sheriff's Department before federal Judge Murray Snow can order the department to change its policies - which isn't to say that Arpaio will suffer politically, even if he loses the trial.
Bill Hart is with the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University. Hart says the sheriff's supporters will stick by him regardless.
BILL HART: Arpaio's an example of somebody who has a very loyal following. And they're older people, and they're very organized. And they all vote.
ROBBINS: 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. And right now, at least, they are the largest voting bloc in Maricopa County.
Ted Robbins, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.