Greg Stanton, a Democrat, is mayor of Phoenix.
Nearly 50 years ago, moments after learning that an avowed racist had gunned down Martin Luther King Jr., a young presidential candidate took the stage in Indianapolis to break the news to a largely African American crowd.
“What we need in the United States is not division,” Sen. Robert F. Kennedy implored. “What we need in the United States is not hatred. What we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom and compassion toward one another.”
It was exactly what the grief-stricken crowd needed to hear. There were riots in many cities that night, but not in Indianapolis.
President Trump’s response to Charlottesville reminds us that the words and actions of our political leaders in the wake of tragic events matter.
America is hurting. And it is hurting largely because Trump has doused racial tensions with gasoline. With his planned visit to Phoenix on Tuesday, I fear the president may be looking to light a match.
That’s why I asked the president to delay his visit. It’s time to let cooler heads prevail and begin the healing process.
I’m not optimistic the White House will heed that call.
Just days after Trump confirmed that he was “seriously considering” issuing a pardon for former Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio — who was convicted in July of criminal contempt of court for defying a federal judge’s orders to stop racial profiling — the president’s campaign announced that it will hold a rally at the Phoenix Convention Center. The timing doesn’t seem coincidental.
Let’s be clear: A pardon of Arpaio can be viewed only as a presidential endorsement of the lawlessness and discrimination that terrorized Phoenix’s Latino community. Choosing to announce it in Phoenix — especially in the wake of Charlottesville — would add insult to very serious injury and would reveal that the president’s true intent is to further divide our nation.
For years, Arpaio illegally targeted Latinos in our community because of the color of their skin. Mothers and fathers lived in fear as they dropped off their kids at school. Kids lived in fear of their parents being arrested and taken away.
A federal court ruled Arpaio’s tactics violated the law. After he defied a judge’s orders, he was convicted of criminal contempt. In convicting him, U.S. District Judge Susan R. Bolton noted that Arpaio “announced to the world and to his subordinates that he was going to continue business as usual no matter who said otherwise.”
Even before his trial and conviction, voters grew tired of Arpaio’s brand of racism and blatant violation of the law. Last year, in an overwhelmingly Republican county, Arpaio lost by nearly 10 points. Although local Republicans helped defeat Arpaio, the white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other racists who shamed our country this month in Charlottesville would surely cheer a presidential pardon.
Our community is moving on and moving forward from Arpaio’s divisive legacy. A pardon won’t change the fact that Arpaio was convicted of a crime, nor will it shake our resolve to keep building a city that is welcoming, is inclusive and provides opportunities for anyone willing to work for them.
In Phoenix, we are working overtime to ensure that everyone will be safe on Tuesday — from the president to those attending his rally and those exercising their First Amendment right to protest. And, like Robert Kennedy, we will remind everyone that we need not division andhatred, but wisdom and compassion.