Bullhorn sirens pierced the air as a 100-strong crowd shouted “Arpaio racista!” outside the courthouse where the sheriff’s criminal contempt case resumed on September 24. Led by Puente, the rally drew people of all ages and ethnicities brandishing signs blazed with demands to “Remove Arpaio” and “Cuff Joe.”
The atmosphere was sometimes buoyant – at one point, the crowd sang, “If you don’t like Arpaio, clap your hands.” But dark undertones rumbled beneath every chant.
The activists gathered in front of black cardboard coffins bearing the names of people who’ve died in Arpaio’s jails due to abuse or neglect. Displays were plastered with dozens of lawsuits brought against Arpaio for racial profiling.
But those lawsuits aren’t enough. So Puente is hosting a legal clinic September 25 all day in front of the Sandra Day O’Connor Courthouse in Phoenix. Their goal is to find some of the “thousands and thousands of people that were racially profiled, that were stopped, detained, deported,” says Francisca Porchas, Puente’s organizing director. “We want to flood him with lawsuits.”
The goal is not to impact Arpaio’s current criminal contempt case but to generate an onslaught of new cases against the sheriff. “It’s another way to send a message that he needs to leave and also [attain] some level of justice for the folks that have suffered so much at his hands,” Porchas says. “Arpaio’s 20-plus-year legacy is bloody, and it’s terrorizing our communities.”
One of the legal clinic volunteers is Noemi Romero, a victim of Arpaio’s workplace raids who was senselessly saddled with a felony for trying to afford the $465 DACA fee. She has since spoken out against Arpaio’s reign of terror and is a plaintiff in a case against him.
Romero wants to reassure people who are scared of telling their stories about injustice, abuse, and deportation at the hands of Arpaio’s deputies. “When I first started talking about it I was scared,” she says. “I actually was at a point where I thought, ‘If I keep doing it, I’m probably going to go back to jail if Arpaio sees me.’ But now I don’t feel scared anymore… I’m standing up not just for me but for everybody else, and I’m speaking on behalf of a lot of people that don’t have the courage to do it yet.”
“Don’t be scared,” Romero tells Arpaio’s victims. “It’s OK to stand up for what you think is right.”
Anyone who has experienced racial profiling or abuse from the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department, or who has a family who’s been victimized by the MCSO, can talk to Puente volunteers outside the courthouse on September 25. Alternatively, you can call Puente at 602-252-1283, message them on Facebook and learn more through their website.