We in the US have been feeling a little overwhelmed lately, what with a racist president and racist marches in the streets and a racist president pardoning a racist sheriff who was famous for his sadistic treatment of prisoners.
Let’s learn a little about that racist sheriff, Joe Arpaio, who was elected six times to be sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, which includes the major city of Phoenix. Maybe you’re thinking he wasn’t such a bad guy? Maybe he deserved the pardon?
Valeria Fernández wrote in the Guardian a week ago:
For more than 20 years, Tent City stood within a larger jail compound in an industrial area 10 minutes south of downtown Phoenix. At its peak in the late 1990s, it comprised 82 Korean war-era military tents and housed 1,700 inmates.
Tents in the desert, where it gets rather warm; Phoenix at this moment is 42 degrees, and inside a tent it would be even hotter. There was no shade, because that was the whole point.
Despite multiple lawsuits from mistreated former prisoners, mounting public outrage and intense criticism from groups such as Amnesty International, which [condemned] the facility as inhumane, overcrowded and dangerous, the outdoor prison remained open. Even the justice department accused Arpaio of racially profiling Latinos on his patrols and denying prisoners basic human rights in his jails.
Basic human rights such as not being cooked alive.
For months at a time, inmates sentenced for minor crimes slept under the green cloth tents on bunk beds perched on large cement slabs on gravel. In the summer, temperatures inside could reach up to 54C (130F) in the dry Arizona heat. Though there was an indoor air-conditioned unit where detainees could shower and take sick relief from the heat, they weren’t allowed to sleep there.
Inmates were issued with pink underwear, pink sandals and used pink wet towels around their necks to ease the heat. The sheriff said he chose pink so prisoners wouldn’t try to steal them.
On cold days, temperatures reached as low as 5C (41F). Holes torn in the tents let in the wind and rain, drenching the beds. Valdez and other prisoners made ropes to hold the tent canvases together out of black trash bags they had been given as raincoats.
Inmates were forced to work on chain gangs – which, save for a few exceptions, had been abandoned by the US in 1955. Maricopa County ran the only all-female chain gang in the country.
Five years ago Sadhbh Walshe reported on Arapaio’s tent city in the Guardian.
Last weekend, during a protest rally at the jail organized by the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), Reverend Peter Morales, UUA’s president, was taken on a tour of the complex. Morales said the first thing that struck him was the oppressive wall of heat. At this time of year, temperatures inside the tent city reach up to 140º. There are no fans. Needless to say, there is no air conditioning.
Morales spoke to a few inmates during the tour and one of the issues they raised was the fact that they are not given enough time to refill their water containers. They also complain about the food. Inmates are fed only twice a day and Arpaio has boasted in the past of the food being rotten; green bologna is a specialty.
There is a provision in the much-heralded US constitution, known as the eight amendment, which is supposed to protect prisoners from being subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. I’m no constitutional lawyer, but housing people in 140º temperatures without so much as a fan and limiting their access to drinking water sounds pretty cruel to me.
Not to mention only two meals a day and green bologna.
Arpaio is, in short, a cruel and merciless man, who takes pleasure in tormenting prisoners. He also violated a federal court order halting his unconstitutional immigration roundups, and as Esquire put it, he “did so gleefully, boastfully, publicly – daring federal authorities to do something about it.”
They did, in the end … and Donald Trump undid their work.