Either way, the billboard-sized sign that sits on private land outside the U.S. Post Office in Oracle has ignited a firestorm for the Pinal County sheriff.
The sign depicts a handsome, dark-skinned family, which implies they are Hispanic when placed next to a quote attributed to Babeu, who has been a vocal and highly visible advocate of SB1070 and securing the U.S. border with Mexico.
The quote states: “This is our most serious public safety issue and national security threat.”
Babeu said his quote was taken out of context when placed next to the image. It was originally meant to highlight what he believes are threats of drug cartels and human smugglers who sneak across the border.
The sign, he said, tries to advance President Barack Obama’s assertion that Hispanics involved in such innocuous activity as going for ice cream will be harassed by police for their papers.
“Clearly they’re trying to depict the most innocent image of a Hispanic family,” said Babeu, calling from Longmont, Colo., where he was at a training seminar for sheriffs.
The sign was created by Oracle residents Frank Pierson and his wife, Mary Ellen Kazda and an artist friend, Michael Moore.
Kazda said Sept. 23, the sign has been up for four weeks, and a there are mostly supportive comments in a book that is placed next to the structure.
Babeu spokesman, Tim Gaffney, said the sheriff found out about the sign Sept. 17, when he was meeting with Pinal County Supervisor Pete Rios. Gaffney said the sheriff has since learned of false allegations being made in chain e-mails that Babeu paid for the sign.
Gaffney sent out a press release Sept. 23 dispelling that rumor and making it known Babeu was offended by the sign.
“We are really happy to hear he is distancing himself from the quote and we look forward to a meeting with him so he can clarify his position,” Kazda said.
Babeu said he consulted with a lawyer because the sign doesn’t represent his values or the values of the Sheriff’s Office, but acknowledged that the Oracle couple has a First Amendment right to display it.
“There’s not a lot I can do or would do,” Babeu said.
Kazda said the family on the sign came from a photo in the public domain and she doesn’t know them or their nationality or ethnicity.
“They’re certainly not Anglo and not Asian, they’re brown-skinned,” Kazda said.
She and her husband own the triangle-shaped parcel that is less than an acre, and they have built a ramada on it and opened it up to the public. They bought it in 1979 with a bunch of other investors to protect it from development.
They built a metal structure that includes a roof to cover the giant placard from the weather.
The first sign went up in July and read “Happy Birthday U.S.A.”
A second sign had a photo of the Statue of Liberty and “Nation of Immigrants” posted on it and a third sign read “Viva Grijalva” in reference to Congressman Raul Grijalva, a Tucson Democrat who called for a boycott of the state over SB1070.
- Gary Grado