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Zack de la Rocha 'brings out the youth' in protest against Arizona sheriff

February 28, 2009 |  6:43 pm
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Reporting from Phoenix -- Zack de la Rocha, lead singer of the rock band Rage Against the Machine, helped lead a rally through the streets of Phoenix today in a bid to end the practices of an Arizona county sheriff who Rocha said had “deputized vigilantes” and created a “state of terror” for local Latinos.

Thousands of people marched about four miles from the Steele Indian School Park to the U.S. District Court of Arizona on Washington Street, chanting “No more Joe” and “Arpaio escucha, estamos en la lucha” –- which translates from Spanish to “Arpaio listen, we’re in the struggle.”

At issue is Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s enforcement of federal immigration law. Some activists say he has unfairly targeted the Latino community. Arpaio says he is simply doing his job and told The Times in a phone interview that today's protest would not "deter" him from fulfilling his duties.

“Without the proper warrants, he raids the homes and workplaces of janitors and gardeners,” De la Rocha told demonstrators at the end of the rally. “At routine traffic stops he detains and deports mothers, violently separating them from their children, who are left abandoned.”

Protest organizers said Arpaio has targeted Latinos in recent years with massive immigration sweeps, armed workplace raids and traffic checkpoints where Latinos are asked about their legal status.

Earlier last month, four U.S. congressional representatives sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr., demanding a federal investigation into Arpaio’s actions.

Arpaio has “a blatant disregard for the rights of Hispanic residents of the Phoenix area.... Members of the Latino community -- whether they are U.S. citizens or foreign-born, whether they are legal immigrants or undocumented -- feel under siege,” read the letter, written by Reps. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose), Robert C. Scott (D-Va.) and Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).

Salvador Reza, one of the rally’s leaders, said he began organizing Saturday’s event about two weeks ago after Arpaio led undocumented inmates, chained together at their hands and feet, to a tent city jail as reporters watched.

“When people are upset, it doesn’t take much time to get them together and to get them out,” Reza said. “Arpaio is raiding our communities and putting fear into our households because he’s targeting people based on the color of their skin.”

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Reza said De la Rocha, pictured above on the right, who now fronts the duo One Day as a Lion, had marched in Arizona before to protest a proposed bill that would have made being in the United States without documents a felony. He said the artist is able to attract a crowd that might not otherwise attend.

“He brings out the youth and the 25-to-35 crowd and makes some people think of these things who might not of otherwise thought about it,” Reza said. Before Saturday's protest, De la Rocha put on a short free show for organizers and demonstrators.

Protest organizers said they want Napolitano, Arizona’s former governor, to stop Arpaio’s ability to conduct such enforcement.

In a telephone interview, Arpaio said he was largely unfazed by the protest.

“I don’t know why they have to have signs calling me illiterate and a Nazi and every other name in the book. I’m not concerned about them or some elected officials, they all seem to be Democrats,” he said. “Nothing changes. They are not going to deter me.”

Alfredo Magallandes traveled from Los Angeles with about 20 other luncheros -- lunch truck vendors -- to march in the rally. He has operated a catering truck at the corner of Compton Avenue and 62nd Street for about 20 years and said he wanted to show unity with immigrants in Arizona.

“We are here to support and say, ‘We are all human beings created equal.’ This sheriff, Arpaio, is violating the rights of humans, not only Mexicans or Central Americans, but human rights.... That’s why we’re here together, so we can stand up and speak out loud and say ‘that’s enough’,” Magallandes said.

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One Phoenix protester said the sheriff’s actions in recent years have made her fearful.

Zeyda, 28, who did not give her last name because she is undocumented, said driving puts her on edge because she worries about running into one of the sheriff’s checkpoints.

“When there’s construction clogging the streets, I start to pray.... When there’s traffic, I pray,” she said.

Zeyda, speaking in Spanish, said she came to the United States from Mexico when she was 5 years old and has been able to build a good life for herself, making a home with her two daughters and running her own business cleaning homes.

“I feel capable. I feel intelligent,” she said. “But I sometimes feel like I live in a cage made of gold.”

Post and photos by Ari B. Bloomekatz, Paloma Esquivel and Nathan Olivarez-Giles.

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