Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon angrily condemned Sheriff Joe Arpaio on Friday for dispatching 200 deputies and posse members into the streets for a second night of high-profile saturation patrols with the intent to arrest illegal immigrants.
Gordon told 1,500 people at a luncheon honoring labor activist Cesar Chavez that Arpaio's tactics in the nation's fifth-largest city clearly show that the struggle against discrimination and injustice continues.
"The posse didn't lock up murderers - they locked up brown people with broken taillights," Gordon told the luncheon crowd. "How does that make our community safer? It doesn't."
The crackdown, near Bell Road and 32nd Street, produced 21 arrests Thursday after traffic stops for matters such as illegal turns and failure to stop at red lights. Of those arrested, 12 were suspected of being illegal immigrants, according to the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.
County authorities arrested 15 people, including eight who were suspected of being illegal immigrants, during the first two hours of patrols Friday night.
"I'm beginning to think that everybody we stop on criminal violations, they are illegal," Arpaio said outside his mobile command center Friday. "There is no secret that I am going after the illegal immigration problem."
Arpaio's latest operation comes less than a week after a similar two-day detail over Easter weekend. That operation was based at Thomas Road and 32nd Street.
Business owners at both locations complained about illegal immigrants loitering and harassing customers, according to letters released by Arpaio's office. The business owners also grumbled that illegal immigrants litter and unlawfully park their vehicles in their parking lots.
Mesa police Chief George Gascón and others have publicly dismissed Arpaio's illegal immigration operations as made-for-TV stunts that create tension among different segments of the community. The sheriff's office has jurisdiction across the entire county, even in cities such as Mesa and Phoenix.
Gordon's criticism marked the sharpest public rebuke to date by an elected official against Arpaio, who prides himself as "America's Toughest Sheriff." He condemned the sheriff for what Gordon described as targeting "brown" drivers for minor civil offenses, enlisting a "neo-Nazi" and bikers to show support for Arpaio's actions, and failing to round up thousands of dangerous criminals who have outstanding felony warrants.
He also said Arpaio uses language in his news releases intended to mock residents Gordon called "hardworking migrant workers."
Gordon chided the sheriff for telling reporters last week: "We lock up murderers. We lock up everybody. We're here for crime suppression and we're going to lock up everybody."
The mayor said Arpaio "calls this being tough. He calls it crime suppression. It is neither."
Gordon was unavailable later Friday to explain what prompted him to speak out against Arpaio in such a public manner, said his press secretary, Scott Phelps.
"I'm a little bit disappointed with the mayor and his slanderous remarks against this sheriff," Arpaio told reporters as protesters on both sides of the issue demonstrated Friday evening.
A feud between Gordon and Arpaio has been building since late last year, when Arpaio sent deputies and posse members on similar patrols outside Pruitt's furniture store at 3425 E. Thomas Road.
That operation resulted in weekly Saturday stand-offs between immigrant advocates and anti-illegal immigration factions. The shouting matches drew national headlines and TV coverage and became the flash point for the immigration debate.
Gordon said Friday that Arpaio should be candid about his intentions.
"Don't say you're going after murderers when you're not. Don't call it crime suppression when it isn't. And don't pass the buck to 10 business owners when thousands of others elected him, and to actually make our community safer," Gordon said at the Phoenix Convention Center luncheon.
Political analyst Bruce Merrill said election-year politics may have factored into the exchange between the elected officials. Gordon is a Democrat who is widely seen as a candidate for higher office, while Arpaio is Republican who is facing re-election and whose approval ratings typically top those of any officeholder statewide.
Dick White, president of the Valley Interfaith Project, said Gordon acted appropriately and courageously by publicly confronting Arpaio, who is "terrorizing" Hispanic neighborhoods.
"We urge other officials to join the mayor in this important statement," White said in a statement. "The sheriff has created a toxic environment for all law enforcement efforts in the county. If people feel they can't trust law enforcement, they will not report crime."
At last weekend's enforcement action, Sally Davis, a Sun City resident and member of the organization United for a Sovereign America, criticized immigrant advocates who protested the saturation patrols at Thomas and 32nd.
"Some people get out of line calling Americans racists because they expect laws to be enforced. They call it a racial issue. It's not. It's a law issue. We have nothing against legal immigration. What we're against is illegal immigration," Davis said.
Mesa resident Adrian Barraza, a member of the organization, told the Tribune that it pains him to see the way Arpaio deals with "anyone that looks brown or Hispanic."
However, one positive outcome is the rise of the Latino community as a politically active group, he said.
"We're getting more politically conscious, especially the younger generation," Barraza said.