Comment: Written by James McQuillan.
In the wake of Charlottesville, the fear of an escalation in tensions between the respective sides weighs heavy on the country’s collective psyche. It is with this fear in mind that many protest and demonstrate against president Trump; while a crowd of loyal supporters to the president gathered to witness his speech, there was no shortage of those willing to stand as a contravening opinion.
Trump has not been a stranger to controversy; from his inflammatory attacks on immigrants among others. The assembled protesters had innumerable axes to grind against the now 45th president. Critical of his past misdemeanours, these residents of Phoenix had reason to believe that a more local contention was on Trumps agenda. Hints were dropped by the president of granting an official pardon to the polarising former sheriff of Maricopa Country: ‘Sheriff’ Joe Arpaio.
While a locally known individual, he has gained notoriety amongst both federal and international organisations for his actions during his term as Sheriff. The ACLU in no uncertain terms, condemning any notion of a pardon for the now disgraced Arpaio:
“Was Sheriff Joe [Arpaio] convicted for doing his job? No, he was convicted for violating a court order for discriminating against Latinos President Trump should not pardon Joe Arpaio #PhoenixRally, #Noarpaiopardon” – ACLU twitter feed (23/08/2017, 4:54am (GMT))
Arpaio has earnt the ire of many Arizona citizens for his actions. His overt support of Trump stands as only a recent chapter in his catalogue of controversy. Upon the creation of a prison camp known as ‘Tent City’ in 1993, he went on record as referring to it as ‘a Concentration Camp’, a reference to the inhumane internment of native populations as well as the larger horrifying use against civilians in Nazi Germany. Tent city was condemned as unfit for human habitation by ACLU and deemed a human rights violation by Amnesty International1, but stood as one of Arpaio’s more contentious acts.
Criticised for the continued use of Tent city as an internment centre for ‘Illegal aliens’, more than 32 cases of sex offenses against children went ignored by the former sheriff’s office, which is believed to stem from his own personal disdain for the Latin community as cited by the ACLU.
“I can’t get the image of a little girl screaming out of my mind, as a stampede of confused, scared people began.”
Nikole, a correspondent, was interviewing members of the congregation when the atmosphere underwent a metamorphosis. Carrying placards made iconic by Green Day, and united in chants of ‘peaceful protest’ as a demonstration of opinion, not force proved insufficient to the opposing number of riot police deployed to the streets of Pheonix that night.
Standing on a steeple and speaking to members of the church who had come out either in solidarity or consultation. When all of a sudden: a cacophony of noise preceded the police in their use of flashbang grenades against the crowd before enveloping them in the fog of tear gas. Caught at such a close range, the crowd which consisted of placard wielding adults and children began to disperse in a fevered panic. Descriptions from Nikole among others speculate the use of flash grenades, tear gas, as well as what may have been noise cannons against the peaceful crowd, never fully knowing the content of Trump’s speech to the reticent crowd.
The speech itself was made up of an aggressive defence his character and actions. Seeking to entrench his innocence, he re-affirmed the correctness of his response to the events in Charlottesville, while exhorting a greater hostility towards ‘the crooked media’. Continuing to enlist the baying crowd to take on chants of ‘CNN Sucks’ to media outlets and journalists present at the rally, continuing on his long line of attacks on the free press. The local government found itself under threat too, Trump brandishing the idea of suspending the local government in order to begin the creation of a hard border between Arizona and Mexico.
Yet Trump proved vague on his condemnation of violence in Charlottesville, re-affirming his blame on both sides, but especially on the question of Joe Arpaio. When pressed for confirmation, he gave the indeterminate reply that the former sheriff is ‘going to be just fine’ to a euphoric crowd. While proving vague, and while it remains to be seen what may happen on the subject, interpretation needs no actions to manifest:
“TO BE CLEAR: Trump’s promise to pardon Arpaio right now is a full and complete embrace of White Nationalism and Racism. PERIOD.” @Igorvolsky (23/08/2017, 3:40am [GMT])
Igor Volsky being the Vice-President of the centre for American Progress has acted to document the unravelling of the progress from previous administrations under Trumps presidency. But what stands as interpretation by onlookers can represent something as sinister and potentially chilling to the Orwellian imagination.
The acts of Joe Arpaio as Sheriff of Maricopa stand as clear and repeated violations of the Fourth Amendment, as well as explicit attacks on the human rights of those under his jurisdiction. With the possibility of a pardon, mixed with the forced dispersal of those rightfully expressing their First Amendment rights, America appears to outsiders to have become a country whose law is turned upside-down.
Whether Trumps words to the people of Arizona translate to application remains to be seen, there may very well be further dark days ahead for America’s constitution and her people, and whether these are dark clouds to emerge from proves difficult to know while engulfed by the smog of tear gas as protestors in Arizona know all too well on this particular eveni