Our VoiceImmigrationNews & Politics

Can Sheriff Joe Be Stopped?

Jill Garvey • May 23, 2009

Sheriff Joe would like the public to believe that the thousands of inmates on hunger strike for the last three weeks are just complaining about food. He would like us to think that the biggest issue for detainees is rotting baloney. If only that were a good enough reason for over 1,500 individuals to go without food for days on end. Common sense and the human rights activists who have been visiting detainees tell us otherwise.

The real stories coming out of Arpaio’s four jails speak of rampant abuse and a severe lack of medical attention. The sheriff is infamous for erecting outdoor tents to house prisoners in scorching Arizona temperatures, forcing them to wear pink underwear and serving rotten food. Outside of his prisons he is known for racial profiling and terrorizing Latino neighborhoods with immigration sweeps.

The hunger strikes began a few weeks ago when human rights activists marched in protest of the abuses taking place in Maricopa County jails. This is the same day Sheriff Joe was videotaped canoodling with racist white nationalists who showed up to harass peaceful marchers. Organizers of the May 2 march say their event and the hunger strikes were not coordinated - there was no contact between them and the inmates, but most likely detainees were emboldened to begin striking by the thousands of supporters who showed up that day.

Sheriff Joe would also like us to believe the striking inmates are hardened criminals, convicted of murder and rape. But this is an extreme fabrication as a majority of detainees are being held on minor immigration charges related to documentation. In almost any other part of the United States these people would not be considered a threat to the public and law enforcement would consider it insane to detain them.

Last week Sheriff Joe put three jails participating in the hunger strike on lockdown, eliminating visitation and phone calls, and according to the ACLU infringing on the detainees first amendment rights.

“It is unconscionable that these inmates – many of whom have not been convicted of a crime – are being punished simply for protesting the inhumane conditions in Maricopa County jails,” said Alessandra Soler Meetze, executive director of the ACLU of Arizona. “This has turned into a real crisis. Rather than addressing it, Arpaio is retaliating against the inmates for attempting to send a message to the outside world.”

As of yesterday, Sheriff Joe ended the lockdown amid rumors that it had not deterred the hunger strike. Perhaps this is a sign that Joe’s reign of terror is becoming less effective as more people bravely speak out for justice.

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