What You Need To Know About Sheriff Joe

I wasn’t exactly surprised when Trump pardoned Joe Arpaio, the former Arizona sheriff who was found guilty of criminal contempt of court in July of this year. Arpaio and Trump are pretty much best buds. They initially bonded over their shared interest in delegitimizing the first black president of the United States and worked tirelessly to prove that President Obama’s birth certificate was somehow fraudulent (for the umpteenth time, he was — in fact — born in Hawaii).

When Arpaio announced that he believed Obama’s long-form birth certificate was a “computer-generated forgery,” Trump was so enamored that he composed a handwritten note to the delusional sheriff, which read:


Great going—you are the only one with the guts to do this—keep up the good fight.

Donald Trump

He also repeatedly praised Arpaio for his birtherism efforts on — where else — Twitter:

During the presidential campaign, Arpaio frequently stumped for then-candidate Trump and even delivered a speech at the Republican National Convention.

Given their extensive, intertwined history — and given how much Trump values loyalty above all else — it’s no wonder that Arpaio would be the lucky first contestant — er, I mean, recipient — of a Trump pardon.

But just because it was virtually inevitable doesn’t make it any less despicable.

I lived in Arizona while Arpaio was sheriff of Maricopa County. While I didn’t reside in his jurisdiction, I closely followed his controversial policing practices, which largely targeted members of Latinx communities. He lead an agency that routinely engaged in racial profiling and discrimination. Under his watch, immigration roundups and “show me your papers” stops were the norm. According to Arpaio, the stops were completely justified if you “look like you just came from Mexico.” If I was visiting the Phoenix metropolitan area, I made sure to carry my driver’s license and U.S. passport — just in case.

Federal investigations into Arpaio’s shady law enforcement methods have been underway since the George W. Bush administration, and the ex-sheriff has been at the center of numerous injustices and tragedies for nearly two decades.

Countless people were illegally detained during Arpaio’s tenure. His jails were so barbaric that Arpaio himself compared them to concentration camps. Prisoners died at an alarming rate, and nearly half of all deaths in Arpaio’s jails simply went unexplained. A federal judge twice ruled that medical care in the jails was so deficient that it was “unconstitutional.” One woman lost her baby due to the negligence of the jail staff, and others described generally harsh conditions for pregnant women in Arpaio’s jails.

What else? Well, there was the general disregard for sex abuse cases, many of which were botched or went ignored as Arpaio focused on bolstering his own public profile. Also worth mentioning are the jail cameras that showed female inmates using the restroom and the Arpaio-approved “Mugshot of the Day” campaign on the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office website.

And just for kicks, let’s not leave out the bizarre assassination attempt that Arpaio staged against…himself.

While the legality of Trump’s pardon is now being challenged, the damage — as evidenced above — has long been done. Arpaio is a cruel person who used the rule of law to perpetuate hate and terrorize marginalized communities for decades. The fact that he was the first to be on the receiving end of Trump’s pardoning pen should not be overlooked or underestimated.

After all, you are the company you keep.

Mekita Rivas is a multiracial writer and editor based in Washington, D.C. In addition to ROAR, her work has been featured in Bustle, GOOD, Racked, Romper, and Teen Vogue. She holds undergraduate degrees in journalism and English from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her current projects include a collection of short stories and a feature film screenplay. She can be found on Twitter and Instagram.

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