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Op-Ed Fri Aug 26 2011
By Rev. C.J. Hawking
Sheriff Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, has been invited to the Kendall County Republican Party's annual picnic this Saturday in Yorkville as the event's keynote speaker. Arpaio has made a name for himself around the country and the world for his consistent willingness to degrade the prisoners under his watch--especially immigrants.
Rather than respect the image of God present in all people regardless of their country of origin, the sheriff has singled out immigrants as a population that is less than human, thus undeserving of basic human dignity.
By inviting Arpaio to their picnic, the Kendall County Republican Party is endorsing the dehumanization and degradation with which Sheriff Joe's name has become synonymous.
Sheriff Arpaio's list of violations of basic human dignity runs long and is well known: the score of lawsuits alleging racial profiling and brutality of various sorts; the virulently anti-immigrant rhetoric and action; the marching of pink underwear-clad, chained prisoners through stifling Arizona heat.
To take one example: in 2008 and 2010, U.S. District Court Judge Neil V. Wake ruled that Sheriff Joe's jails violated inmates' constitutional rights by failing to provide basic food and medical care: "Arpaio routinely abused pre-trial detainees... by feeding them... contaminated food, housing them in cells so hot as to endanger their health, denying them care for serious medical and mental health needs, and keeping them packed as tightly as sardines."
Arpaio has singled out immigrants in particular as a group. He has created posses of citizens deputized to root out and hunt down undocumented immigrants in his state as if they were animals; he has threatened to "use our automatic weapons if we have to" against undocumented immigrants crossing the border. Obsessed with scapegoating immigrants for his state's problems, Arpaio violated a federal order for his office to end immigration enforcement in the wake of scores of complaints of civil rights violations and accusations of racial profiling at the hands of Maricopa County police. When it comes to immigration, his rhetoric is consistently hostile and hateful.
Immigration reform is a difficult issue, frequently inspiring heated discussion from a variety of perspectives. Vigorous debate should be welcomed. But messages of hate should be kept out of the debate.
Sheriff Arpaio's voice appeals to the noxious sentiments of racism, xenophobia, and bigotry in our society. The Republican Party of Illinois and the citizens it represents should unequivocally reject such voices.
For the Kendall County Republican Party to extend an invitation to Sheriff Arpaio to visit and speak in our state is to align themselves with a shameful history of constitutional violations, racial discrimination, and indifference to human suffering. It is analogous to endorsing a modern-day Sheriff Bull Connor during the Civil Rights Movement.
Republican leaders should immediately denounce messages of hate, sever all ties to Arpaio, and promise to keep hate out of the debate forevermore.
Rev. C.J. Hawking is Executive Director of Arise Chicago and Associate Pastor of Euclid Ave. United Methodist Church in Oak Park.