She was getting angrier as we argued on the Church parking lot. She controlled her irritation at my unreasonable position. But, finally, she had had enough. She pointed her finger at me and spoke deliberately. “When you get to be my age…”
The words went through my head: “I’m in love.” She had no idea how much younger she was than was I.
It was years ago. We sometimes tell the story together, and she makes a point of assuring me I still look much younger than my age.
Our argument is lost to me now. I wonder if she remembers it. It probably had to do with some change in ritual.
We now have two services, one traditional and one less traditional. What we call a contemporary service is not all that contemporary. A friend describes it as a traditional service with contemporary songs.
I don’t much care what label fits. I don’t want our traditions, the comfortably familiar, to interfere with spiritual worship, spiritual growth, the open arms we ought to have toward each other and those outside our walls. In fact, rituals laden with Elizabethan English grate on me a little. They strike me as contrived. Hymns written during times well removed from Olde Englishe, seem to me to have a heavy coating of thee‘s and thou‘s, trying for a deliberate sort of holiness effect.
I believe at least some substantial human suffering comes with spiritual isolation, feeling alone and without value. I would like to remove anything that gets in the way of what ought to be the central essence of love for God and for our neighbors. If part of the church refuses to advance that message; that we are not what we do, that each of us is valued as we are; I would like that part of the church to at least get out of the way. We need to know that we are not alone, that our burdens are borne by many, and that all of us share the same humanity. Real people do live real lives of what Henry David Thoreau called quiet desperation, asking themselves if this all there is.
I think about the difference between abstraction and reality as I hear angry reactions to my President’s pardon of former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
He’s done a great job for the people of Arizona, he’s very strong on borders, very strong on illegal immigration. He is loved in Arizona. I thought he was treated unbelievably unfairly when they came down with their big decision to go get him, right before the election voting started.
President Donald Trump, August 28, 2017
There are objections, of course. Most of the controversy is about form and procedure. Ruben Gallego is a Congressional Representative from Arizona. He objects to a violation of norms.
The idea that the president skipped over the norms of judicial proceeding when it comes to pardoning, to pardon, basically, a political crony: at the end the day it’s just anti-American.
Most of those who support President Trump want to challenge the norms of political procedure. They don’t see a violation of those norms as anti-American. They see that violation as restoring power to the people, which is to say themselves.
Arizona State Senator Martin Quezada reacts with a bit more anger.
There is a right thing to do, right now, and there is a wrong thing to do. The wrong thing is to stand behind this individual who is criminally convicted, who was found in contempt of civil court, for violating the human rights of the people of Maricopa County.
Those reactions frustrate me, much as traditional worship frustrates me. Most of what we have heard has involved abstraction. It is important abstraction, involving procedural safeguards, civil rights, and court violations. Form is important, even critical. Must we emphasize form to the exclusion of substance? The controversy has the feel of technical legality.
Violations of civil rights? Like not reading the correct Miranda warnings, like we see on television?
Profiling traffic stops? Would that mean not adhering to some statistical mean average?
Some who follow the controversy might be dimly conscious of the mistreatment of prisoners. But prisons are for bad guys, right? We see those scary miscreants in reality prison shows on cable television. Why get worked up at a Sheriff tougher than they are?
Abstractions. Like our worship controversies. Why not brush all that aside and violate a few norms to get the job done?
We need to know what those abstractions mean in real life to real people. Not to put too fine a point on it, Joe has not been a nice man.
Sheriff’s deputies were told to stop and arrest anyone they suspected of illegal immigration. That suspicion included any automobile driver who looked Latino to a deputy. Or anyone who was a passenger. Or a pedestrian. Or a worker.
Federal investigations turned up a host of specific cases:
Hector (not his real name), was a legal resident of the United States.
He was pulled over one June in Mesa by one of Joe Arpaio’s men. He was told he had changed lanes without signaling. Hector did not have his driver’s license with him.
Arizona law covers that. If you can provide a Social Security card, or a work visa, or a passport, or an Arizona ID, or any of a number of other IDs, you are given a provisional ticket. If you show up within 24 hours with a valid license, you may or may not have to pay a nominal fine. Usually they’ll let you skate without the fine.
So Hector showed the IDs he did have on him. He showed the officer his Arizona ID and his work visa and his Social Security card. He showed his Mexican passport. There was no criminal activity. But Hector was arrested for “failing to provide any type of proper identification.”
The charge was dismissed. After all, it was clearly false. But it was not dismissed before Hector spent 13 days in jail.
Gabrio, not his real name, and his 12 year old son were luckier. Gabrio was a legal resident. His son was a U.S. citizen.
A group of Joe’s deputies had raided a another house. It must be frustrating for officers to come up empty. They began surveilling the neighborhood. They asked to speak with Gabrio. He invited them in. They searched Gabrio’s home without a warrant, without his permission. They found nothing. But they arrested and handcuffed Gabrio and his son and sat them on the sidewalk with ten neighbors who had also been arrested. They were all let go after an hour. No charges.
These were immigrants, legal immigrants. But United States citizens were not exempt, if they looked Latino.
In one case, a driver was told that he was speeding.
When he protested that he had observed the legal limit, he was pulled from his vehicle. He was eventually treated for multiple facial lacerations, and injuries to his neck and back.
In another case, a deputy said he had noticed a non-functioning tail light.
He turned on his flashing lights and followed. The driver drove the short distance to his own driveway and got out of his vehicle. The deputy hit him with his patrol car and dragged him a short distance. He said he suspected the man might try to escape. Other deputies arrived. He directed them to leave the Latino man pinned under the car. The Fire Department eventually extracted him. He suffered broken bones and lacerations.
A non-functioning taillight.
He was a US citizen, but he looked Latino.
Activists who protested mistreatment were special targets. Videos taken by witnesses document bogus arrests, suspects put into custody while standing on sidewalks, hands in pockets.
Statistics should be more than numbers. When individual cases are multiplied and multiplied again, we still need to see human beings, human beings who matter, human beings who have rights.
The massive abuse ordered by Sheriff Joe went on for years.
It had to stop somewhere. Joe Arpaio had violated court orders going back to 2009. In 2015, he signed his name to a consent decree and promised to stop the targeting of Latinos and the harassment of those who opposed his tactics.
He did not keep his word.
It took months and a ton of documentation, but he was found in contempt of court by a federal judge. Procedures for federal contempt are different than for state or local courts. A trial was held. A different judge considered the evidence and found Sheriff Joe guilty.
Joe Arpaio sees his violation of norms as a minor matter, the result of persecution.
First of all it started 60 days after Obama and Holder took office. That’s when this started and here we are now. I’m being charged with a misdemeanor. The contempt of court sentence would be the same for barking dogs.
The barking dogs in this case happen to be human beings. The charges were actually pursued by the Justice Department after President Obama had left office. President Trump did attempt to obstruct the case, asking his Attorney General to drop the charges. Attorney General Sessions reportedly explained that the obstruction was improper.
Sheriff Joe, like President Trump, believes the accusations were intended to cost him re-election last year.
…their big decision to go get him, right before the election voting started, as you know. He lost in a fairly close election. He would have won the election.
Actually, Joe Arpaio lost to Phoenix Police Sergeant Paul Penzone by 10 points, 196,000 votes. The common election term for that is “landslide”.
Joe warns that his contempt of court conviction is significant beyond himself.
If they did it to me they can do it to anybody.
We can only hope.
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