Michael Lacey's Speech to the ACLU Dinner

by francine Hardaway on March 30, 2008


Good evening ladies and gentlemen.

My partner, Jim Larkin, and I were arrested in mid-October after writing about the secret grand jury instigated by Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Which is why we are here with you this evening.

And I am here… to tell you… that I prefer spending a night in Joe Arpaio’s cell to making a speech.

But the good folks at the ACLU informed us that there would be no rubber chicken,… no wooden plaques… without a monologue. And so I have been drafted to share some thoughts.

And this is what I think: You will not be rid of Sheriff Joe Arpaio until our kids reject the gentrified instinct of soccer moms and …embrace the spirit of Donald Duck.

As we sit here inside a museum dedicated to the culture of one trampled minority, Sheriff Joe Arpaio is blockading the streets of Phoenix and jailing another trampled minority…Mexican immigrants.

I am heartened that the ACLU in Arizona is led by an individual, Dan Pochoda, who bore witness to the civil rights abuses of the oppressed and who was arrested because he stood shoulder to shoulder with Mexicans who, by the way, have the same constitutional rights as my own children.

Here, in this desert, it is Selma time.

One month before Jim and I were arrested, I happened to visit Germany and while there toured Dachau. The fearsome name – Dachau — belies its prosaic origins. Dachau began as a mere settlement camp for the revolutionaries who disrupted the tranquility of German streets. Dachau’s opening was noted without rancor on the front page of The New York Times. In the earliest days the Red Cross attested to Dachau’s place in a well ordered universe.

But Dachau grew to accommodate the needs of Nazi Germany and housed the infamous Doctor Mengele. The camp also incarcerated the German theologian and poet, Martin Niemoller.

It was pastor Niemoller that helped me connect the dots following our arrest last October.

You see, people were outraged, not merely by Sheriff Arpaio’s arrest of two journalists but by what we revealed about County Attorney Andrew Thomas’ secret grand jury.

Under the direction of special prosecutor Dennis Wilenchik, the grand jury subpoenas sought not only the confidential notes of all of our reporters but – and this is the stunning part – the subpoenas also sought the identity and online reading habits of anyone who looked at New Times.


Law enforcement came to that belief gradually.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his henchman County Attorney Andrew Thomas applied the pressure gradually, incrementally, and without impediment.

The first target was prisoners. And that pleased voters.

Soon political opponents were targeted, as were writers, editors, migrants, judges.

Sarah Fenske, Paul Rubin, Stephen Lemons, Bill Jensen, John Dickerson, Ray Stern, Megan Irwin, Amy Silverman and Rick Barrs wrote and edited the series of articles that showed how each of these groups were targeted without public revolt.

By the time the authorities came after our newspaper’s readers, law enforcement no longer concerned itself with an indignant public.

There had not been an indignant public.

And so the familiar words of pastor Niemoller took on new gravity here in Phoenix Arizona:

When the Nazi’s came for the communists, I remained silent;

I was not a communist.

Then they came for the sick, the so-called incurables, and I didn’t speak up.

Because I wasn’t mentally ill.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up.

Because I wasn’t a Jew.

When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.


At the end of our series of articles, Constitutional scholar and Dean Emeritus of the ASU law school, Paul Bender, pointed to a rather shocking solution – given his background – to the excesses of local law enforcement.

People must resist.

If law enforcement got the idea they could attack enemies who criticize, that’s extremely dangerous…if they succeed in terrorizing people it becomes a crisis…gross violations of the First Amendment…the sheriff’s roundup of immigrants, very questionable.”

People must stand up to Arpaio and Thomas said Bender.

By the way, this is in keeping with the opening episodes of the rather excellent HBO series on John Adams wherein we are reminded that this country was founded by rum runners, tax evaders, and patriots who tarred and feathered the customs agents of the British.

In any case, Bender’s advice that we must stand up made me wonder: where are the student protestors resisting the round up of Mexican immigrants?

Where are the Freedom riders? Where are the high school activists?

I saw Alfredo Gutierez out on the protest line in north Phoenix and it made me think of his leadership in the Hispanic laundry strike at ASU approximately 40 years ago.

Resistance is carbonated by the young.

But I have to wonder where that spirit of resistance is today.

Which brings me to soccer moms and their first wedge of submission to authority: bicycle helmets.

It has been my casual observation, hardly original, that the first victim of civility is civil liberty.

And civility is all the rage.

My youngest son Colin, spent eighth grade learning 7 forms of apology.

What sort of drivel is this?

If a student was rude to another, the offended student could choose 3 forms of apology out of the 7 offered by the school. The rude child than selected from these 3, which apology he or she would extend to the victim.

The 7 apologies included things like baking cookies for the wounded or carrying the books of the offended.

Colin wondered: what’s wrong with saying , “I’m sorry.”

I suppose 7 apologies followed logically campaigns against rap lyrics, video games, computer simulations, punk, goth ,Beavis and Butthead, Jackass, skateboarding, Dogtown and Z boys and the trashy excesses of YouTube.

And let me tell you what all this “decency” reminds me of.

In the 1930’s, good Germans were reminded of a new variant of Kinder, Coo-keh, Keer-keh : children, kitchen, church.

Elsewhere in the 1930’s comic books – as opposed to the newspaper comics – were invented.

Last Sunday The New York Times Book Review critiqued The Ten-Cent Plague, The Great Comic Book Scare and How It Changed America.

We were reminded that comic books were burned in bonfires by the offended and censorship boards spread and newsdealers were arrested.

Kids sought out the noir characters, the dark superheroes and created an underground culture.

The forces of offended decency hovered over comic books virtually from their inception” noted the reviewer. As comics evolved, “America’s postwar paranoia deepened, and then onto Mad and its imitators as a hipster subculture began to bubble up from the depths of the repressed 50’s. Let us not even get started on Donald Duck.”

Jim Larkin and I were, and are huge fans of Mad magazine and remain to this day devotees of Carl Banks, the comic genius who penned Donald Duck.

The irrasble Donald was someone I recognized as opposed to Mickey Mouse who would been jumped in any American school yard .

Donald had issues with authority.

By the time Donald had his own comic book, he led his nephews on extraordinary adventures around the world.

Oddly, Carl Banks’ work is distributed today by a company in Prescott.

From Donald it was a small step to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island when I was 7. A lucky girl would have jumped from Mad to Ann of Green Gables or perhaps Nancy Drew. In the end it would all bend and blend.

And it seems so harmless in the rear view mirror that yo
u have to wonder what the hell were parents so worried about.

While the sedition of Mad erodes any undue respect for authority, the key word is “undue”. You can not appreciate the satire if you do not understand authority.

Robert Louis Stevenson would go on to write The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, a classic analysis of good and evil. Tragedy follows when Dr. Jeckyll – like a good soccer mom – tries to separate his raucous self from his aspirational self, rather than embracing his inner Beavis and Butthead.

I truly believe that a hot tempered Mad magazine encouraged young readers to – as Paul Bender termed it – “stand up” to politicians and law enforcement when the time came. And Donald Duck conditioned us to see this resistance as the next adventure.

A culture of protest and renewal will always be at war with soccer moms, seven forms of apology, order and civility.

Arpaio argues that honest businessmen have signed petitions, the writ of the commoner, asking him to sweep up the disorder created near the Mexican day labor center in Sunnyslope.

But as Stephen Lemons revealed in this week’s issue of New Times the petitions originated with an oddball fixture in the nativist United for a Soverign America

Arpaio masks his racist campaign against Mexicans in a doily of civility. His sweeps are aimed at those who loiter or litter he tells us. His arrests are due to traffic violations.

In the name of Donald Duck and Mad magazine and on behalf of all of us who work at New Times, Jim Larkin and I are donating $10,000 to the this chapter of the ACLU to defend Hispanic immigrants.

The Arizona chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union insists that: Constitutional safeguards can not be sacrificed for children, kitchen or church. The Bill of Rights must always trump litter. Freedom does not bow and scrape before law and order.

In this fight we stand with the ACLU

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jack Kessler March 31, 2008 at 9:56 am

I have little patience with people who equate anyone with whom they disagree with the Nazis. It is not too much to say they literally do not know what they are talking about.

That impression is reinforced by Michael Lacy condemning as Nazism the enforcement of the secrecy of grand jury proceedings. So far from having been invented by Sheriff Arpaio and a handful of Arizona fascists, the secrecy of the proceedings of grand juries has been part of the common law since the founding of our republic and for centuries before that in England.

Michael Lacy’s condemnation of civility as opposed to civil liberty could not be more wrong. Civility is the recognition of everyone’s human dignity. Civility is the basis of our liberty, and indeed of civil society generally. The alternative to civility is not the witty bohemianism that Michael Lacy imagines, but the brutality and dehumanization of primitive societies.

Lacy’s snotty condemnation of civility and soccer moms fits handily with his finding profundity in comic books. He presents the reader with the portrait of someone frozen as a juvenile. I loved comic books and Mad magazine too. But then I grew up and became an adult. Michael Lacy seems not to.

He is certainly entitled to his opinion. And we are equally entitled to assign no value to it. There may be persuasive arguments for and against the policies of Sheriff Arpaio, but Michael Lacy makes none of them.

Charles Raymond April 2, 2008 at 5:41 pm

I think there’s more Daffy than Donald in this particular duck’s talk.

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