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Sheriff Joe's Inhumane Circus

Alessandra Soler,
ACLU of Arizona
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February 5, 2009

Sheriff Joe’s one-man circus has made headlines again in Arizona’s Maricopa County.

His latest taxpayer-financed media stunt involved the “forced march” of undocumented inmates who are serving out their criminal sentences. Sheriff Arpaio closed down the city streets so that everyone could witness their public humiliation as they walked in chain gangs from a “hard” jail to the infamous Tent City, where they will be forced to endure unsafe conditions including summer months with temperatures of upwards of 120 degrees.

Not only was this inhumane, but violated international human rights principles — not to mention American values — that require us to treat people who are incarcerated with dignity and respect. But Sheriff Arpaio has absolute contempt for the dignity of the people in his custody and demonstrates this by treating people like circus animals.

Though he claims otherwise, Arpaio wasn’t motivated by budgetary or security concerns to march shackled immigrants to the Tent City; he was motivated by the opportunity of self-aggrandizement and the promotion his anti-immigrant agenda. For those reasons, and for those reasons alone, he chose to re-route traffic and waste dwindling law enforcement resources.

Almost all of the people in the forced march were Latino and their humiliation struck one more blow to fairness and human decency in our community. And although the sheriff blatantly continues with his racial profiling practices in so-called “crime suppression sweeps” in Latino neighborhoods, the absence of significant protest from white officials in Arizona and from any federal agency allows the racial targeting to continue unabated.

There was simply no reason for this degrading spectacle other than Arpaio’s lust for media attention. If he decided — based on overcrowding and/or security concerns — that these inmates needed to be transferred, then he should have proceeded — as most jail officials do — using buses, without creating a circus and marching these individuals in chain gangs over a distance of one mile.

Joe Arpaio is legally and morally obligated to treat people in a humane manner. He should put an end to this one-man circus show and start doing his job of upholding the law, rather than violating people’s rights and pandering to the most reactionary and racist elements of the anti-immigrant movement.

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