Dear Sheriff Grady Judd:
Following church last Sunday, my lunch conversation took a disturbing turn. The Polk County Sheriff Deputy sitting at my table started talking about all the “illegals who are ruining Polk County.” Then grinning, he said “My favorite thing to do is spend time on patrol in those parts of town where ‘those people’ hang out. I just wait for them to look like they are breaking a law and then I get to catch me a Mexican.” The words took me back to stories told about another world in the 1920s-1960s when that phrase could have been "catch me a nigger".
I am a believer in really listening to people’s stories before casting judgment. I learned enough in this brief conversation at lunch to safely say this deputy values racial profiling and even employs it in his job—specifically looking for ways to “catch” someone who looks Mexican. “Catch me a Mexican” sounds like someone hunting an animal. This is racism from one in our police force who is charged with protecting the very people he has already convicted in his mind. That might even be putting it nicely since by his rhetoric, I’m not even sure he considers Latinos to be people.
I understand this might be an extreme example of an individual, and certainly does not speak for the integrity of the Polk County Sheriff’s office as a whole. However, the question needs to be asked… Is this just the perverse perspective of an individual or is there an anti-Latino culture that pervades the Polk County Sheriff’s Office?
Stories of injustice like this come out of Arizona. Sherriff Joe Arpaio holds the record for the most law suits against a sheriff. (Sheriff Judd, you are in second place.) Sherriff Arpaio took the stand yesterday to face Latinos who are accusing him of racial profiling, including launching immigration sweeps based on complaints about “dark skinned people”, targeting Latino areas by seeking out traffic offenders, and pulling over Latinos without probable cause. The Justice Department has filed a broader case against the sheriff and his department. I wonder if this is a sign of lawsuits to come to Polk County?
I have spent significant time recently listening to stories of Latino persons in Polk County—many undocumented. Their stories are powerful and not unlike the stories of immigrants found in the family trees of every person in Polk County. They are part of the fabric of society and are people who are increasingly coming out of the shadows to make a real difference in our community for all who are marginalized. I have been inspired by their life stories, and deeply saddened by their stories of being targeted by Polk County Sheriff Officers.
Many times, the racist actions of some of your officers affect children most of all; Latino children who live in fear of law enforcement because their parents are often victims of racial profiling. As you know, the cooperation of the community is essential for law enforcement and this behavior does not do anything to help foster a trusting relationship between Latinos and the Polk County Police.
Sheriff Judd, based on the personal testimony of many, I believe there is a pervasive culture that promotes racial profiling in your department. I applaud you for the statement on your Web site that calls profiling unacceptable. I assume this policy is part of officer training. But, like any policy, it is only as powerful as it is practiced. You can dismiss the stories of many as merely perception (like you do on your Web site) or you could take time to listen, build trust, and make relationships. I wonder, if people of privilege were making complaints in masse, would you dismiss their testimony too as "anecdotal".
What are you actively doing to change this culture? Will you meet with others and myself who are currently organizing to protest the treatment by your deputies? How will you make it safe again for those who face the injustice of your officers who are trying to “catch them a Mexican”? What are you doing to build relationships in the Latino community? I know you must train your officers to technically stay on the right side of the law, but I wonder, will future generations judge them to be on the right side of history...
Rev. Andy Oliver