A March 1, 2009 column by Arizona Repbulic’s E.J. Montini proclaims that Sheriff Joe Arpaio is no ‘Bull’ Connor. Actually, Maricopa County Sherriff Joe Arapio is more like the Southern segregationist Bull Conner than Arizona is ready to admit.
Montini points to the most visual abuse that occurred at the hands of Conner and his lackey’s, the turning of fire hoses on young children, to argue that there can be no comparison made between Arapio and Conner. What Montini ignores in his rebuke is ‘Bull’ Conner’s attempt to force the New York Times into silence through legal wranglings, his efforts to intimidate local politicians and, as well documented in Spike Lee’s documentary 4 Little Girls, Conner’s willingness to turn a blind eye to the police brutality that occurred under his watch.
Eugene ‘Bull’ Conner, a Public Safety Commissioner and arch-segregationist, terrorized a large portion of Birmingham, Alabama from 1956 until April of 1963. We would all do well to remember that during that period fire hoses were only one weapon in his arsenal against human rights.
Like ‘Bull’ Conner, Maricopa County Sheriff Arpaio has attempted to silence his media critics. His false arrest of Phoenix New Times executives in October 2007 will eventually cost Maricopa County millions in legal costs. However this did not stop Arpaio’s deputies in June of 2008 from attempting to harass a journalist from the very same paper.
Like ‘Bull’, Arpaio is not above intimidating public officials. In March of 2008, Arpaio went on a “fishing expedition” by filing a Freedom of Information Act request against public officials who dared to speak out against him. Police abuse exists as well, Maricopa County has paid out over $43 million dollars in settlements during Arpaio tenure due to inmate deaths and injuries. And like Conner, Arpaio is terrorizing a portion of the community based on their skin color.
At the end of day, Alabama and Arizona have three things in common: One, the unwillingness of media, business and political leaders to reign in an out-of-control public official. Two, a federal government that is unwilling to intervene to protect the basic rights of individuals residing in that state, and; finally a country that is watching in increased disgust.
One shouldn’t wait until the fire hoses appear before we can acknowledge the disturbing similarities between two out of control public officials. What is at stake is not just a mere disagreement over tactics and law but the reputation and morality of the State of Arizona.