Driving While Brown: Sheriff Joe Arpaio versus the Latino Resistance, Terry Greene Sterling, Jude Joffe-Block, Wade's World

Celebrating the Latino Resistance Victory over Sheriff Joe Arpaio

Ideas and Issues

April 3, 2021

Pearl River

Persistence, tactical discipline, and strategic commitment, along with constant struggle were the hallmarks of the Latino resistance that ended up driving the popular battle against Maricopa County, Arizona’s self-appointed “America’s sheriff,” Joe Arpaio. At least those were the arguments made by Terry Greene Sterling and Jude Joffe-Block in our conversation on Wade’s World recently, as well as in their new book, Driving While Brown: Sheriff Joe Arpaio versus The Latino Resistance.

All of this resonated with me. I was frequently in Phoenix from 2008 to 2010 supporting the work of Chris Newman and Pablo Alvarado of the National Day Laborers’ Organizing Network (NDLON) and working with ex-ACORN organizer Theresa Castro on a foreclosure response and prevention project during the Great Recession. I was fortunate to meet and visit with some key players in the resistance, like Carlos Garcia and Salvador Reza, who are principal figures in the book as well. Arizona ACORN and then its successor organization, LUCHA, were also in the fight from beginning to end, including in some of the civil disobedience that ended in arrests by Arpaio. I joined them all in the great march and rally to protest Senate Bill 1070 that was the centerpiece of the legislature efforts to lead the national anti-immigrant movement, just as all of these folks were key leaders in the Bush-Obama-Trump fight for immigration reform, making Arizona and the struggle against Arpaio the national centerpiece of the effort.

The outrages of ex-President Trump and his team and their obsession with immigration and the wall, has perhaps dimmed memories of the Arpaio outrages, fueled by his racism and his own narcissistic, Trump-like obsession with his media coverage. Arpaio operated tent cities for prisoners and immigrants, make them wear pink and flipflops, fed them next to nothing, and more. With the dubious and discredited legal advice of anti-voting and anti-immigrant legal crusader Kris Kobach from Kansas, claiming that the sheriff had “inherent authority” to police immigration, he allowed his deputies to run neighborhood and traffic sweeps targeting Latinos on the search for anyone undocumented or simply “driving while brown” and being brown. The outrages were daily and the harm to innocent families and entire communities was extensive.

The whole thing was also illegal, as courts slowly but surely determined, since immigration and border enforcement is a federal matter, not a local one. Arpaio is a case study in what happens when key law enforcement officials go rouge with no concern for the law. He routinely ignored federal court injunctions with impunity that, coupled with the steady protests of the resistance, were his undoing, leading to the Justice Department winning a criminal contempt conviction, and the resistance finally defeating him at the ballot box.

President Trump of course pardoned him, but he was beaten soundly. This affair is now a case study of both extra-juridical abuse of a minority and the power of a relentless and inspired movement of resistance by Latinos, who were that minority, proving once again that “the people united, can never be defeated.”