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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Sheriff Joe’s stunt makes Arizona national laughing-stock

    Arizona’s recent claims to fame have included the Cardinals’ improbable and heart-wrenching trip to the Super Bowl and a mammoth budget deficit that has led the State Legislature to make sizeable cuts in education, health care and public services. But the state’s perennial national blemish is none other than four-time re-elected sheriff of Maricopa County, the infamous Joe Arpaio, better known simply as Sheriff Joe.

    Sheriff Joe is known to his supporters as “”America’s Toughest Sheriff,”” and to his many detractors, including Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Arizona Ecumenical Council, the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League as an alarming public official, prone to flirting with human rights violations in order to maintain his “”tough”” reputation. Famous examples of his flouting prisoner’s rights include reinstating the archaic practice of chain-gangs, feeding prisoners just twice a day and with expired food, housing them in tents that can reach 150 degrees Fahrenheit in Arizona summers, and obliging them to wear pink underwear emblazoned with the words “”Go Joe.””

    In 2005, Sheriff Joe forced 700 maximum-security prisoners to march four blocks between jails in nothing but pink boxer-shorts and flip-flops. His excuse was that he didn’t want the inmates to be able to hide weapons in their clothes, but the march served as just another publicity stunt to dehumanize and disgrace the detainees.

    Recently, Sheriff Joe has been at his best. In an exploit that caused the Huffington Post to name Arpaio its “”unconscionable idiot of the week,”” he arranged massive media coverage and on Feb. 4 paraded 200 undocumented immigrants dressed in old-fashioned striped prison garb and shackles from the county jail to Tent City, where they will await trial. That’s right: none of the hundreds of detainees has even been sentenced yet. Arpaio claimed that the event was a “”cost-saver,”” an excuse I can’t even begin to fathom. How is outfitting 200 untried men in new prison uniforms and orchestrating a full-fledged media circus a cost-saver?

    With Sheriff Joe’s notorious dearth of transparency, we’ll probably never understand that excuse. But even so, when has cutting costs ever justified gross Constitutional and human-rights violations? The New York Times called Arpaio “”off the rails”” in a Feb. 5 editorial about the incident. If one county’s sheriff is drawing the notice and antipathy of the largest metropolitan newspaper in the United States, then Arizona has a major public relations problem.

    To add insult to injury, Sheriff Joe stars in a reality television show on Fox Reality. “”Smile… You’re Under Arrest!”” aired Dec. 27, 2008. The show’s premise is that people with outstanding warrants are hoodwinked into presenting themselves for arrest, with stunts like fake movie casting calls or fashion shows. At the end of each episode, Sheriff Joe and his costars arrest the unwitting crooks.

    Clearly, Arpaio has a strong taste for publicity at others’ expense. But he’s an elected official and as such, this sort of behavior is unacceptable. How does the sheriff of the fourth-most-populated county in the nation have time for a television show? Still, he manages to fulfill his other self-proclaimed duties, chief among them barefacedly breaching prisoner’s rights and terrorizing undocumented migrants.

    And here we come to why residents of Maricopa County continue, unfathomably, to re-elect Sheriff Joe. He is “”tough on illegal immigration.”” Well, yes, but Joe McCarthy was famously “”tough on Communism.”” Toughness does not indicate sound policy, and Arpaio is nothing more than a dangerous buffoon whose fear-mongering will do little to improve Arizona in the long run. All he will really do is make himself, and our fair state, a national laughing-stock. Thanks, Joe!

    – Heather Price-Wright is a creative writing and Latin American studies sophomore. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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