By the Rev. Richard Reams and the Rev. Keith Ray
In response to the invitation of Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, as a featured speaker at Congressman Jeff Duncan’s Faith and Freedom BBQ, a nonviolent, peaceful protest was held on the public sidewalks at the entrance to the Anderson County Civic Center.
On Aug. 22 at 5 p.m., United Methodists gathered alongside Unitarians; clergy gathered with laity; chaplains, students, retirees, psychologists and more came together for a singular purpose. We joined together to protest the invitation of Arpaio by Duncan.
Arpaio has served as sheriff of Maricopa County since 1993. During his tenure, he has described himself as “America’s toughest sheriff.” He has employed practices that have targeted minority communities in ways that violate the law. Human and civil rights groups have criticized Arpaio’s practices of sweeping arrests based on skin color. In 2013, a federal court decision stated, “The Court concludes that the (Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office) had and continues to have a facially discriminatory policy of considering Hispanic appearance probative of whether a person is legally present in the country in violation of the Equal Protection Clause.”
In 2016, Arpaio was found in contempt by a federal judge for his refusal to correct discriminatory practices as mandated by the court. In the past eight years, Maricopa County has spent $41 million on legal fees associated with the sheriff and his department. Arpaio is known for his “solution” to overcrowding in jails through the establishment of a so-called “tent city” in a remote area of Arizona where prisoners are kept in an outdoor areas 24/7 where temperatures reach more than 130 degrees. He has been criticized for targeting migrant communities at the expense of giving appropriate attention to violent crimes in the county.
We gathered in nonviolent protest to the invitation of this speaker to our area. Honoring the blatant racism and discriminatory practices of Arpaio not only stand as the antonym of our faith and Christian mandate, but it is disrespectful to the multitude of law enforcement officers around this state whose service to their community is marked by compassion and selflessness.
As a volunteer chaplain for my local sheriff, it is apparent that the vast majority of law enforcement seeks to be a force for good, not violence or racism or oppression. Why then would one of our elected officials choose to honor and highlight one of the worst apples in the bunch as if his practices should be modeled?
In conversation with Duncan outside the event, Rev. Keith Ray reminded Duncan, “(Arpaio) represents the lack of recognition of the humanity of immigrants. This event is billed as honoring first-responders. But Sheriff Arpaio was recommended last week for prosecution. To be brought in as a model for our officers doesn’t make sense.”
During his speech, Arpaio acknowledged our protest, but only in as much that it boosts his profile. No mention was made about his inhumane practices, racist dispositions or pending prosecution. Nor was any mention made by Duncan about the biblical mandates to love our neighbors or welcome the migrants. It is interesting only because this event was continually billed as a “faith event.”
Duncan remarked, “Yes, we have faith in our creator and that’s the almighty God. And we have faith in Jesus Christ who died for us.”
For that reason we gathered. We gathered to connect faith in Christ to faith in practice. We gathered to protest Arpaio’s invitation into this state. We gathered to boldly proclaim that his practices will not be tolerated or celebrated in this state.
We gathered to proclaim love for our neighbor.