The Rev. Al Sharpton on June 19 called for opponents of an Arizona sheriff who has aggressively cracked down on illegal immigration to videotape alleged racial profiling by the sheriff’s office.
The civil rights leader said the videos will help the U.S. Department of Justice in an investigation of alleged civil rights abuses by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s office.
“We’re gonna start some freedom rides around this county, to show how people of a certain skin color are treated different than other people,” Sharpton told a crowd of several hundred people at the Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church in Phoenix.
Sharpton spoke with Arpaio later Friday in a meeting that the sheriff called cordial.
Arpaio said Sharpton did not mention his freedom rides plan, but asked about racial profiling.
“I tried to educate him that we don’t do it,” Arpaio said.
Sharpton had planned a press conference after the meeting but was whisked away as dozens of Arpaio supporters rushed toward him. About 50 protesters for both sides were outside the sheriff’s office in downtown Phoenix, separated by a police line.
The meeting joined two figures known for outsized egos and media antics, but Sharpton had said it would have a serious message. In April, Sharpton called for Arpaio to resign or be removed from office.
“I will not fly all the way across country to engage in the personality of Sheriff Joe,” Sharpton said. “But I will fly anywhere to protect the rights of Citizen Jose and Citizen Jamal.”
Critics have said sheriff’s deputies conducted racial profiling last spring during immigration and crime sweeps in some Latino areas in metropolitan Phoenix. The sweeps had led Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon to ask for a federal investigation of Arpaio for possible civil rights violations.
“You cannot have law enforcement that is based on skin color rather than proper deeds,” Sharpton said. “If I break the law, arrest me. But don’t make me a suspect because of the color of my skin, or because of my language.”
Arpaio has said people pulled over in the sweeps were approached because deputies had probable cause to believe they had committed crimes.
The sheriff has taken a hard line against illegal immigration and strongly enforces Arizona’s employer-sanctions law, which punishes businesses that knowingly hire illegal workers. He worked with Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas to use the state’s human-smuggling law to charge illegal immigrants for conspiring to smuggle themselves into the state.
Arpaio has publicly clashed with other local law enforcement officials who said the sheriff was damaging a delicate relationship between the police and the Hispanic community.
Arpaio said he told Sharpton that he would continue his immigration enforcement despite criticism and the civil rights investigation, adding that Sharpton “may have learned that maybe with this sheriff my people aren’t as bad as he may read in the newspapers or as some politicians tell him.”
Brandy Baron, a 53-year-old Arpaio supporter, said she’s glad Arpaio agreed to meet with a harsh critic and called Sharpton “a loser who needs to mind his own business.”
Arpaio protester Sheila Ryan, 68, said she hopes Sharpton’s visit will put a bigger national spotlight on Arpaio’s immigration sweeps.
“It takes a big name like that to bring attention to the issue in a significant way,” she said.