Trump pardoned former Arizona Sheriff and convicted criminal Joe Arpaio late Friday night. In his own classic (meaning sleazy) style, he not only buried this after all the news cycles were done, and after he had officially banned transgender people from serving in the army, but right before Hurricane Harvey starts destroying Southern and Central Texas. Frustrated at reading this over my morning coffee, I said “Oh no,” to which my seven-year-old predictably asked me “What, daddy?” He wouldn’t accept “never mind,” so I told him. And his reaction truly shocked me. In the best way.
The Ballad of Joe Arpaio
In 2010, Arizona passed SB1070, an anti-illegal immigrant law, which was largely struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. But Sheriff Joe Arpaio began immediately profiling Latinos and demanding they prove their legal status, without any other probable cause.
Late in 2011, U.S. District Judge Murray Snow issued a preliminary injunction ordering Arpaio and his deputies to stop targeting Latino drivers. He admitted repeatedly to violating that order, so Federal prosecutors took him to court. In mid-2013, Judge Snow ruled that Arpaio’s office had knowingly and willfully engaged in racial profiling.
In 2015, Arpaio consented to charges of civil contempt against him, but Federal Prosecutors brought criminal charges, and last month the Judge ruled that he “willfully violated the order by failing to do anything to ensure his subordinates’ compliance and by directing them to continue to detain persons for whom no criminal charges could be filed.” Arpaio was sentenced to six months in jail.
Let’s be clear. Arpaio defied a direct court order, admitted repeatedly to doing so, and even consented to the charges. He is clearly and undisputedly guilty of committing a crime. Full stop.
Why Presidents pardon convicted criminals
According to Robert Spitzer, an expert on the presidency and a professor of political science at the State University of New York at Cortland, Presidential pardons occur for a variety of reasons.
Sometimes it is purely a case of mercy, where the president feels that the person has suffered enough. Sometimes the pardon is the result of a belief that the person being pardoned was prosecute wrongly or perhaps was subject to a sentence that was out of proportion to the crime. Sometimes a pardon results from the belief that the person being pardoned has reformed himself or herself.
Trump’s pardon is quite the opposite. He granted full clemency to a man who
- Was fairly convicted of clearly and willfully committing a crime.
- Openly admitted that he did so.
- Openly admitted that he would keep doing so.
It’s very hard for me to not see that as a clear and willful embrace by Trump of bigotry and racism.
How my seven-year-old reacted to Joe Arpaio’s pardon
To be clear, I haven’t explained any of this to my kids. When they ask me questions, I give them direct answers but I don’t go off on political rants or tirades. They are precocious kids and pick up a lot from the world around them, and I let them make up their own decisions about social issues.
So when I said “oh no!” and my son pressed me for details, I simply said “Trump pardoned a sheriff who was found guilty of ignoring an order by a judge.”
“What order?” he asked.
“That he stop checking whether people who look like they’re from other countries are in this country legally,” I replied.
Then he walloped me with this:
“Oh no, daddy. That means none of us are safe.”
Wow. “Why is that,” I asked.
“Because that means he is supporting people who hate. Presidents can’t do that.”
Wow again. Right out of the mouth of babes, as they say. And if a white middle-class seven-year-old can get this, then clearly everyone else in America should as well. So in my view, the truly sick part of this is that the President of the United States doesn’t. My son is right. None of us are safe.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Featured image from Wikipedia.