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Arpaio protesters at ASU forum were wrong to shut down the event

LatinaLista — The news first started appearing on my Facebook feeds page — Sheriff Arpaio is forced off stage by a bunch of singing protesters.


At an Arizona State University (ASU) forum to discuss First Amendment rights, Sheriff Arpaio was getting ready to be drilled by three university journalism professors — but never got the chance.

A small group of protesters began singing a parody of the 1975 song “Bohemian Rhapsody” with the lyrics altered to include: “The border stops brown folks, they cannot cross the line…But it’s easy come, easy go for the rich and their cargo.”

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio responds to questions from ASU journalism professor Rick Rodriguez, Cronkite News Service broadcast director Susan Green and CNS digital news director Steve Elliot in the First Amendment Forum. (PHOTO SOURCE: BRANDEN EASTWOOD | THE STATE PRESS)

While the Dean of the ASU Cronkite School of Journalism pleaded for the protesters to stop so the 200 people in attendance could listen to the forum, the protesters continued and Arpaio left the stage. At one point, on a video of the event, Arpaio can be heard asking if the school had to let those “people” in and the response was that it was an event open to the public.

The reason why the protesters behaved as they did is no secret. Arpaio is arrogant and self-righteous which grossly interferes with how he does his job which includes handling undocumented immigrants and implementing government programs — yet, the protesters were wrong to force the forum to shut down.


If Arpaio had the podium to himself and was delivering a speech, a protest, like the one that took place, would have been far easier to understand. After all, like Lou Dobbs before he left CNN, there isn’t anything new that Arpaio could have possibly said that would have been enlightening – just a regurgitation of the same old rhetoric.

However, a forum that puts other people in control over the questions Arpaio answers would have been enlightening. Even if he had repeated the same rhetoric, the journalism professors on that stage would not have let him get off without hard questioning. In fact, it would not have been surprising if Arpaio had walked off the stage during their forum since he would have probably perceived their line of questions as offensive and lacking the respect he thinks he deserves.

But we’ll never know.

It’s one thing to protest a single individual who has control of a certain platform, whether it be a podium or a TV show, but it’s quite another to protest, to the point of shutting down, an open forum that can go beyond canned rhetoric and force answers that usually are avoided.

If the protesters had wanted to make their disapproval known, they could have done so in several ways: protest before the event (which they did), boo when he was introduced, boo at his answers, stand up with their backs to the stage, don’t applaud, wear t-shirts with anti-Arpaio text, etc.

But to shut down a free exchange where Arpaio doesn’t control the event, was not only a missed opportunity but a disturbing sign that tolerance only exists for these protesters if people agree with them.

And tolerance is the key.

In this case, tolerance would not have been a sign of weakness or an act of condoning Arpaio’s actions, but it would have allowed for, hopefully, a better understanding of why this man believes and acts the way he does.

Today, the USA Network released a poll titled “United or Divided,” to go along with their new Characters Unite campaign exploring social injustices and cultural differences that divide the nation.


One particular finding of the poll was that 51% believe that the amount of prejudice, discrimination and intolerance in the country is a very or somewhat serious problem.

However, the same poll found that 51% believed “average citizens” can help reduce the amount of prejudice, intolerance, and discrimination in the USA today.

It starts with an open mind and tolerating hearing opinions/comments that differ with our own. Until each side is heard, it will never be known where compromise exists, how wedded people are to their beliefs or just understanding that people will have to agree to disagree.

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  • Maegan la Mala Ortiz
    December 1, 2009 at 11:14 pm

    Ay no se Marisa. Having earned some of my experience and wisdom through grassroots activism, I think it’s wrong to come down on the protesters. Arpaio has had many platforms, many media moments and he hasn’t veered in his stance/position. I can’t imagine he would have said anything that would have enlightened the world. He’s a racist and I think such actions are exactly what the pro-migrant movement needs right now as part of a larger strategy.

  • Jose Gonzalez
    December 2, 2009 at 11:51 am

    “At an Arizona State University (ASU) forum to discuss First Amendment rights, Sheriff Arpaio was getting ready to be drilled by three university journalism professors — but never got the chance.”
    I’m not necessarily defending the protesters, but I did want to clarify something that might not be clear from the coverage that is out there.
    The disruption came 44 minutes into the event. So, Sheriff Joe Arpaio had plenty of time to sound off before things got shut down.
    The biggest negative of the disruption isn’t the final 15 or so minutes that could have been — Arpaio had given non-answers and slinked out of questions by claiming that some issues were still in litigation, and likely would have continued on that track — but that the hubbub overshadowed the meat of the story: Arpaio’s inability to give a straight up answer to the most important issues that were raised.
    For what it’s worth, Sheriff Joe touched base with Dean Callahan and said he’d be willing to do something similar again, despite the final outcome of the forum.

  • chuck
    December 2, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    It feels contrary to the American tradition of free speech – whether you agree with the ideas or not — to prevent someone from talking. If we prevent people from fighting with their words, we force them to use other less-desirable weapons.

  • Marisa Treviño
    December 4, 2009 at 10:16 am

    Thanks Maegan. In light of what Jose informed us about the incident, I don’t have objections with their protest, especially if he was that far along in the interview.

  • Marisa Treviño
    December 4, 2009 at 10:18 am

    Thanks Jose. It always helps immensely to have someone’s personal perspective.

  • cookie
    December 4, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    This isn’t the first time that the pro-illegals tried to silence freedom of speech. They did it a few times on college campuses to invited speakers from the other side. They tried to get Lou Dobbs fired. This isn’t what America is all about.

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