LatinaLista — In yet another disturbing story to come out of Arizona this week -- and it's only Tuesday! -- is news that Latinos make up the ethnic majority in the Maricopa County jails.
Seeing that this is the domain of the infamous Sheriff Arpaio, the news isn't completely shocking. Yet, what is surprising is that instead of the undocumented Hispanic immigrant male who should be accounting for this majority, we find out that it's the legal Hispanic male resident of Maricopa County who occupies this distinction.
Are Latino males in Maricopa County born with a criminal gene?
As Nastassia Walsh, a research analyst with the Justice Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.,-based group that advocates alternatives to incarceration, said "Putting large numbers of police officers and deputies in Latino neighborhoods would clearly result in more Latinos going to jail."
Arpaio and his "posse" are known to do just that in their hunts for undocumented immigrants. In the process, Latinos are being targeted for trivial offenses that may warrant a warning in other areas of the county.
Because of this increased enforcement, the jails are not only shifting demographically but they are the settings for violent tensions building among inmates.
In examining the Maricopa County jails, it was found:
â€¢ The number of Hispanic men in county jails increased by more than 28 percent between 2004 and 2008, from 2,751 in 2004 to more than 3,500 last year. The number of Hispanics in Maricopa County increased by more than 20 percent, from 982,000 in 2004 to more than 1.18 million in 2007, the last year with ethnic data available from the U.S. Census.
â€¢ The number of White men in county jails fell nearly 18 percent, from 3,580 to 2,938 in that same time span, while the number of Whites in the county rose by almost 7 percent.
â€¢ The number of Black men in county jails continued to increase, from 986 to 1,158 in that five-year period, and now make up more than 14 percent of the jails' male population. Blacks make up about 4 percent of the county's population.
Though it's reported that Maricopa County, like the rest of the country, is experiencing a decline in violent crime, the question remains why so many Latinos are being jailed in Maricopa County?
Aside from those men who murder, rape and rob and deserve to be behind bars, those types of offenders seem to be in the minority.
By arresting Latino males for trivial offenses sends the wrong message to children of that community.
If they see their brother or father or uncle or cousin being handcuffed and placed in a squad car for driving with a broken taillight or not signaling or jaywalking or just hanging outside with a group of friends, it sends a message that the police are not there to help but hurt their families.
By locking up so many males from one community, it negatively impacts that community and trust is irretrievably broken between law enforcement and the community's young generation.
Most police departments get this.
Why Sheriff Arpaio's department doesn't get it goes beyond just doing their job. It means that there is no respect for the Latino community in his jurisdiction.
How can there be respect for the law when there's no respect given in return?