This doesn’t smell right. In fact, it has the downright stench of opportunism.
Joe Arpaio, the anti-illegal immigration hardliner and Obama birther-conspiracy-peddling sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz., has found a way to twist the tragedy of the Newtown, Conn., school massacre into an excuse to expand his police powers more than seriously protect children.
According to The Huffington Post, Arpaio now plans to have armed volunteer posses out patrolling areas around the county’s elementary schools. They won’t be posted on the campuses, however.
Unless they’re prepared to stop white guys who are dressed in camouflage or military vests, or black trench coats, I can’t quite see how that will work. Besides, that would be racial profiling, and that’s wrong.
Besides that, Arpaio likes to detain Latinos, not white people.
And because he has been shown to be a guy who ignores facts if they don’t jibe with his prejudices or his attempts at political opportunism – he insists that President Obama’s birth certificate is fake – I don’t trust him to use his posses to protect children as much as I suspect he’ll use them to step up his harassment of people of color.
No matter that they’ve never shot up a school.
Here’s why I’m dubious about Arpaio’s latest move. During a civil trial last summer which was the result of a lawsuit brought by a group of Latinos who said they were being disproportionately targeted in his immigration sweeps, one witness cried as he described being searched under his armpits and in the groin area by deputies inquiring about his wife and his immigration status.The Justice Department has also filed a civil rights lawsuit against him, as well.
With all that hanging over Arpaio, it’s hard to not see him using the posses as another means of getting back at a group of people who he despises, and who a lot of the people who re-elected him despise. Except now, Arpaio can do it under the guise of protecting schools.
Then there’s this thing about the volunteers. Some have criminal pasts. They’re in charge of providing their own weapons and equipment. They’re basically on their own.
Even with training, it’s hard not to see a Trayon Martin – George Zimmerman situation emerging here. Some trigger-happy volunteer suspects someone of acting strange, or dressing strange. A confrontation ensues, and someone winds up dead.
And many times, such confrontations emerge out of cultural misunderstandings – which are probably more likely to happen in Arizona than in most other places.
No doubt, the time is long overdue to find a way to stop mass shootings. But the way to do that is through sensible gun control laws and better access to mental health services. One gun shop, for example, didn’t sell a “long gun” rifle to the Newtown shooter, Adam Lanza, because he didn’t want to wait 14 days for a background check.
Perhaps if there was some way of tracking down people who refuse such checks, that might stop some mass murders.
On top of that, Arizona is a state with no laws requiring it to report people who have been determined to be mentally ill to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NCIS – something that would show up in a check by a gun seller.
Arpaio would be better off using his energies to fix that.
Still, the situation in Arizona bears watching – because it could well turn out to be a cautionary tale.
It bears watching because officials who are motivated by politics, prejudice and ideology than by actual school safety could very well come up with ways to use the Newtown school massacre in the same way that the Bush administration used the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks – to push an agenda that is more about frightening people into accepting overly-aggressive policing and more, often misguided, retaliatory actions that happen after such tragedies, than in preventing such tragedies by pushing for real answers.
And we all know that for people of color, that never turns out well for us.
Tonyaa Weathersbee is an award-winning columnist who is based in Jacksonville, Fla. Follow her at tonyaajw@twitter. Or visit her webpage and blog, “Tonyaa’s Take,” at www.tonyaajweathersbee.com.