For many Hispanics living in Maricopa County, Arizona, the name of their Sheriff, Joe Arpaio, conjures up images of racism, police raids and immigration sweeps under the pretense of checking for traffic offenses; just so that residents can be asked about their immigration or citizenship status.

The sweeps of course have been targeted at mostly Hispanic areas of Phoenix, including areas suggested by the public in emails to Arpaio.

For many Hispanics who don’t live in that area, the practice of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department officers targeting individuals who look a certain way, dress a certain way, or are of a certain skin color; is called enforcement by racial profiling.

And it happens to a certain degree in other parts of the country as well, including Lubbock.

The problem is that it is hard to prove that it happens or that an individual was stopped based on racial profiling alone. Obviously, law enforcement agencies will never admit that race has anything to do with the stop, and incidents of racial profiling may be subtle or too random to warrant any follow up actions from the individuals targeted.

Then there is the fear of retribution factor.

But, ask a random sampling of Hispanic drivers who have been stopped in this area or county and inevitably you will hear stories from some that believe that skin color had everything to do with being stopped or treated in a certain way by law enforcement.

This past week, the most recognized name associated with the practice is on trial in Phoenix; a lawsuit brought by a group of Hispanic plaintiffs who had had enough.

The plaintiffs charge that they were targeted in Arpaio’s raids which involved sheriff deputies fanning out in areas known to be frequented by Hispanics or Latinos and stopping them at random to ask them to prove their citizenship or immigration status.

For those who don’t believe that Arpaio’s raids had a specific purpose, all you need to do is look at the arrest numbers. In Maricopa County, “illegal immigrants accounted for 57% of the 1,500 people arrested in the 20 sweeps conducted by Arpaio’s office since January of 2008” according to evidence presented at the trial.

One of the most disturbing aspects of this case is the evidence found in emails received by Arpaio. The emails were written by residents which complained of “dark skinned people” gathering in certain areas or speaking Spanish. Plaintiffs allege that Arpaio would then organize his raids in response to some of the emails; targeting the areas mentioned in them.

Here’s a good example from a story in USA Today: “In an August 2008 letter, a woman wrote about a Sun City restaurant: “From the staff at the register to the staff back in the kitchen area, all I heard was Spanish — except when they haltingly spoke to a customer.” The letter ended with a suggestion that the sheriff investigate.

Arpaio made a handwritten note in the margins saying, “letter thank you for info will look into it” and that the complaint should be sent to aide Brian Sands, who selects locations for sweeps, with a notation saying “for our operation.” The sheriff’s office launched a sweep two weeks later in Sun City.”

Racial profiling is a practice that has gone on for years and years. The problem is that there is no certain way to prove it or disprove it; unless like in Arpaio’s case, the evidence is clear and overwhelming.

Police departments will say they don’t racially profile, where some people that have been stopped will swear they were stopped just because of their skin color or where they were coming from.

For years, we have heard stories about how Lubbock police and DPS officers would wait in the vicinity of certain nightclubs frequented by Hispanics or blacks.

A popular perception here in Lubbock was that DPS officers would wait at around closing time, in the vicinity of El Fronterizo on the Tahoka Highway, just so they could target drivers leaving the popular dance hall frequented by Hispanics.

But again, these were just stories and good luck in trying to prove it.

One thing is clear to us though, in the case of Arpaio, race and an assumption that if you were Hispanic you were here illegally is what drove the raids he organized.

And for that, he should be found guilty and then found guilty again when he goes on trial in the lawsuit already filed against him by the US Department of Justice.

For us, that cannot happen soon enough.

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