By KRISTA NORSWORTHY
Cronkite News Service
PHOENIX (Friday, Oct. 16) — With one exception — Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio — Arizona addresses civil rights as well as any other state, the Rev. Al Sharpton said Friday.
The Rev. Al Sharpton speaks Friday, Oct. 16, 2009, at a civil rights forum sponsored by Arizona State University’s Center for Community Development and Civil Rights. Sharpton said Arizona’s record on civil rights is as good as any other state’s _ but only when factoring out Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s crime-suppression sweeps. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Krista Norsworthy)
“I think when the sheriff is out of town, Arizona is about as equal as everyone else when it comes to civil rights,” Sharpton said before participating in a civil rights forum.
Arpaio’s crime-suppression sweeps, during which his officers arrest illegal immigrants, have drawn protests from minority groups and some political leaders. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently removed the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office’s authority to enforce federal immigration laws other than in jails, but Arpaio has argued that he still has authority to conduct the sweeps.
Sharpton said Arpaio is out of line.
“It is one thing for the sheriff to have a position, but it is another thing for him to supersede where the government and others on a federal level have deemed proper and appropriate,” Sharpton said.
Sharpton, who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004, later joined state Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, and Arizona State University Professor Raul Yzaguirre, a longtime civil rights advocate, at a forum organized by ASU’s Center of Community Development and Civil Rights.
The panelists agreed that educational equality and income among are among the biggest challenges facing the country.
“I think this issue must be one that unites America, about the quality of education,” Sharpton said.
Sharpton said the civil rights movement should embrace people with disabilities, pointing to the Americans With Disabilities Act as similar to the Civil Rights Act.
“It is the enforcement of the law and the continual knowledge of the enforcer that is the challenge,” he said.
Sinema pointed to gay rights as an important component of today’s civil rights movement, calling it unfair for the Legislature to drop domestic partner benefits for state employees.
“You can disagree with someone’s choices about their life, but to take away health care people simply because they have chosen or cannot get legally married, that is just evil,” Sinema said.
Sharpton urged all civil rights advocates to fight for each other’s causes as well as their own.
“You can’t free anybody until you are ready to fight to free everybody,” Sharpton said.
“There has never been a successful civil rights movement that segregated itself.”