The Rev. Al Sharpton descended upon Phoenix Friday, taking the bombastic Sheriff Joe Arpaio up on his challenge for a throw-down over immigration in the Valley of the Sun.
Several months ago, the civil rights leader threatened to shine the spotlight on Arpaio, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department and the racial-profiling of Mexican Americans, which Sharpton said is both racist and un-American. Calling Sharpton a publicity-seeking, outside interloper, Arpaio dared Sharpton to “bring his circus to town.”
Said Sharpton on Friday, "We didn't come to start trouble; we came to stop trouble. Let me make this clear – we are not here about Sheriff Joe as much as we're here about Citizen Jose," Sharpton told a crowd at Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church in Phoenix. "I would not fly all the way across country to engage in the personality of Sheriff Joe, but I would fly anywhere to protect the rights of Citizen Jose." The gathering took place after Sharpton, who runs the Harlem, N.Y.-based National Action Network, met with several alleged victims of racial-profiling.
"You cannot have a back of the bus immigration policy where those of a certain color are automatically put in the back of a police van and have to prove themselves innocent," he said. "You're supposed to be innocent until proven guilty."
But everybody isn’t agreeing that Arpaio is violating civil rights. Many people gathered outside of Pilgrim Rest to show their support for the controversial sheriff.
"This man [Arpaio] is enforcing the laws of this country," said Anna Gaines who said she immigrated to the United States from Mexico in 1960. "We're not against immigrants. Immigrants come through the front door legally, as I did." Arpaio scoffed at Sharpton’s suggestion that he step down as sheriff.
"I'm not changing, and he understands that I'm not going to change the way I operate," said Arpaio, after a brief, “cordial” meeting with Sharpton. "At least I could get my side out with all these demonstrators and local politicians finding fault with me ... I really appreciated him talking with me whether he agrees with me or not."
Sharpton described the meeting as “blunt."
"I thought it was civil, but I thought it was very frank. I don't think he's moved on his positions and I certainly haven't moved on mine... We're gonna start some freedom rides in this county to show how people of a certain skin color are treated different," promised Sharpton.