Feb 5 2009
Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona! Congratulations!
This week, having already done everything imaginable to turn himself into a national right-wing celebrity by terrorizing undocumented immigrants, Sheriff Joe turned to the unimaginable. For a pre-arranged media circus, he paraded — that’s right, paraded — undocumented immigrants wearing humiliating old-fashioned prison uniforms and shackles out of the county jail to a “tent city” where they are now being held and awaiting court. Just as Arpaio rounded up immigrants in the county through widespread racial profiling, he has carried that racism to detention by segregation — and singling out — Latino immigrants.
Arpaio claims the measure was a cost-saver, but it’s worth noting that in 2005, he moved 700 prisoners from one prison to another wearing only pink underwear and flip-flops (the prisoners were, that is, not Arpaio). Outraged Maricopa County politicians say the cost-savings are negligible and merely a red herring. “He’s trying to justify this as a ‘budget savings,’ and I’m just appalled,”said County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox. “It’s just another publicity stunt.”
Of course the idea that gross violations of human rights might possibly be justified by cost-benefit analyses (see, e.g., the death penalty) or efficiency (see, e.g., torture) has been repeatedly repudiated mathematically. Let alone the moral calculus that apparently is beyond Arpaio’s grade level.
The most noteworthy thing about the photos from the orchestrated show is that the antiquated prison costumes all say “UNSENTENCED.” According to Stephen Lemmons, over 70% of people under Arpaio’s control are all still awaiting trial. What better way to welcome immigrants to America, where everyone is supposedly innocent until proven guilty, than march them in chains to a temporary concentration camp encircled with a high-voltage fence. That will teach you to seek low-wage working picking our vegetables to feed your own family!!!
The “UNSENTENCED” labels in the midst of the “we’re doing everything to portray you as dangerous and guilty” pageantry is the ultimate irony — despite Arapaio’s best attempts, the men he is trying to dehumanize remain human, fathers, brothers, sons trying to pursue the same dreams dangled in front of generations before.
Still, hats off to Sheriff Arpaio who, while he could be spending his time pursuing fraudulent mortgage brokers or mini Madoffs, is doing his part to whip up anti-immigrant furor among those who truly have bigger problems but find scapegoating immigrants much easier than imagining a new economic paradigm of justice for all. What better way to ignore your own shackles than to shackle others. Sheriff Arpaio is a real trailblazer in the right-wing shell game of denial.