The dismal spectacle we all have witnessed ever since Donald Trump became president has made perfectly clear that he’s got the bullies’ backs.
And the most recent example was his pardoning of the world’s most infamous racist sheriff, Joe Arpaio. These two pals have a lot in common, especially when it comes to scaring Latinos to death. Since he was elected sheriff of Maricopa County, AZ, in 1993 until his defeat in 2016, Arpaio has demonstrated profound disdain for my people and a medieval cruelty to repress them.
In 2013, a federal court found Arpaio guilty of racially profiling Latinos during massive immigration round-ups. His inmates, packed in outdoor prisons, which he himself called “a concentration camp,” suffered scorching heat in the summer and freezing cold in the winter. A federal judge ruled that the “healthcare” he provided to his inmates was “unconstitutional.” According to the Phoenix New Times, during his despotic decades in charge, about 160 prisoners died in his concentration camp, and the suicide rate among them reached a mind-blowing 23 percent. The legal claims against his office surpassed 13,000, costing the taxpayer $140 million in litigation.
In July, another court found him guilty of criminal contempt after continuing his wholesale arrests of Latino-looking people. The sentence was scheduled to be read in October. On August 25, however, his pal Trump, in an unprecedented act of disdain for the rule of law and by taking advantage of the media attention Hurricane Harvey was generating, pardoned Arpaio, praising him for his work fighting “the scourge of crime and illegal immigration.”
This derision for the most vulnerable, the easiest ones to repress and abuse, carries striking similarities with the toxic bombardment hundreds of Latino communities are subject to across the country. If you are Latino and poor, chances are excellent that pollution is your neighbor, something known as environmental injustice.
Remember which politicians fight for clean air and human decency, and which ones support the toxic bullies who mortify us.
A Minnesota University study confirmed in 2014 that race is the determining factor when it comes to who breathes toxic air. The researchers concluded that in communities across the country, people of color breathe 46 percent more nitrogen dioxide —a toxic byproduct of fossil fuel combustion— than non-Hispanic whites.
According to a Washington State University report, barrios of economically disadvantaged Latino immigrants who do not speak English are more exposed to cancer-causing air toxics than any other community in the US. “Hazardous air pollutants can cause cancer or other serious reproductive and birth defects. Most originate from automobiles and industrial sources like factories, refineries and power plants,” it adds.
A Sierra Club and Green Latinos national survey found that 40 percent of Latino voters live or work dangerously close to a toxic site, such as a refinery, a coal-burning plant or a freeway. Also, 41 percent said someone in their immediate family suffers from cancer and 45 percent, from asthma.
And in Houston, because of the devastating flooding triggered by Hurricane Harvey, industrial fence-line communities—overwhelmingly Latino and African-American—are reporting headaches, sore throats and itchy eyes because of a strong smell of gas and chemicals from sprawling petrochemical facilities. Since many cannot afford to leave or evacuate, these communities are trapped under this toxic cloud.
The most effective defense against this outrage is your vote. Remember which politicians fight for clean air and human decency, and which ones support the toxic bullies who mortify us.
Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist. Follow him on Twitter @javier_SC.