Sheriff Joe Apaio’s reign of terror continues in Phoenix. And this time his antics are more dangerous than ever. Arpaio is launching another round of what he’s coined “crime suppression sweeps,” an aggressive show of force by deputies and armed civilians known as Arpaio’s “posse” that can last for several weeks. These efforts have historically focused on immigrant and Latino neighborhoods. This time, Arpaio’s troops are taking to the sky, monitoring the activities of residents from small planes.
Arpaio calls his posse “volunteers.” But others have another name for them: vigilantes. Human rights activist Salvador Reza told the Arizona Republic that the operation “will spend taxpayer dollars to put 30 pilots in the air and put everyone at risk by arming vigilantes with M-16s and machine guns.”
According to the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, posse members will be focusing on the southern border of Maricopa County to monitor “illegal” activity. Don’t confuse that with the actual U.S. border, it’s nearly 200 miles from Maricopa County.
“We’re going to use our automatic weapons if we have to, and I’m tired of my deputies having to chase these people and I’m sure the air posse will be able to spot these guys running as they do constantly from us,” says Arpaio.
Arpaio’s official jurisdiction may be confined to one county, but the effect of his criminalization of immigrants and Latinos ripples far beyond.
Coinciding with Arpaio’s sweep comes the tragic news of yet another teenage boy allegedly murdered by Border Patrol agents. Sadly, this is becoming a familiar event for border communities.
In the aftermath of the passage of Arizona’s racist law SB1070, the shooting death of a 14-year-old boy by Border Patrol agents gained national attention when a video surfaced that made clear that the FBI’s account of the incident wasn’t true. Less publicized incidents included a man who was shot and killed with a stun gun by a border agent in San Diego, and two men who were shot and injured after throwing rocks at pursuing border agents in Arizona.
Earlier this year, 17-year-old Ramses Barron Torres, who died at a Nogales, Sonora hospital, was shot in the back of the right arm, with the bullet continuing into his chest cavity, puncturing a lung, and lodging in the left side of his ribcage.
It was reported that Barron Torres’ gunshot wound was caused by a U.S. Border agent. But, as has been the case with other shootings, the Border Patrol has declined to comment on the incident, as has the FBI
The latest shooting involved a 19-year-old American citizen named Carlos La Madrid who was shot in the back three times by a Border Patrol agent. Again, the media is speculating on unconfirmed and vague reports of rock throwing.
Rock throwing is a recurring theme in these incidents. The Border Patrol has explained the shooting of the 14-year-old (who was playing with friends on the Mexican side of the border and was not trying to cross), as a justified response to rocks being thrown at agents.
A Border Patrol union representative described rock-throwing directed at border agents as “a deadly force encounter, one that justifies the use of deadly force.”
Violence against Latinos has increased despite the fact that crime has steadily declined in Arizona over the last 15 years. Cities in border states are among the safest in the nation. According to the Associated Press:
“The top four big cities in America with the lowest rates of violent crime are all in border states: San Diego, Phoenix, El Paso and Austin, according to a new FBI report. And an in-house Customs and Border Protection report shows that Border Patrol agents face far less danger than street cops in most U.S. cities.”
So why are border patrol agents seemingly shielded from responsibility for these shootings? Even in cities where police brutality is rampant, the shooting death of an unarmed teenager at the hands of law enforcement would, at the very least, lead to an investigation and trial.
And why is Arpaio allowed to continue forming militia groups that target immigrants?
Arpaio’s antics become more brazen the longer they go unchecked. And despite the fact that he targets immigrants and Latinos, all residents of Maricopa County are at risk.
Arming 3,000 civilians with automatic weapons and a mission to fight nonexistent crime doesn’t make Arpaio the toughest sheriff in the nation. It makes Phoenix the scariest city in America.