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Hopefully, Prison Photography helps to clarify the facts behind images. In Maricopa County, Arizona yesterday the zealous Sheriff Joe Arpaio, ordered a parade of guarded, unsentenced & undocumented immigrants. Hand-cuffed and dressed in stripes, the men walked from one facility to Tent City. Hatewatch summarised the scene:
Along the way they were filmed by television news crews and guarded by at least 50 Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) deputies, wearing body armor and combat fatigues, armed with shotguns and automatic rifles. At least two canine units were present; a Sheriff’s Department helicopter hovered overhead.
The massive show of force was pure stagecraft for a blatant and dehumanizing publicity stunt orchestrated by Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio. The MCSO gave no indication that any of the immigrant prisoners were particularly violent or presented a grave danger to the public.
Arpaio, the self proclaimed “toughest sheriff in America”, has been roundly condemned by civil rights advocates, most of the regional media and clear-thinking locals for his colourful publicity stunt. Arpaio is a man hell bent on cleansing his county of undocumented immigrants and has done so by targeting Latino neighbourhoods, stopping Latinos for minor infractions (as an excuse for searching), and frequently deployed mask-wearing/gun-toting forces in petty shows of strength. Hatewatch elaborates on how all this is possible:
Arpaio is lionized by Minutemen vigilantes and other nativist extremists for his controversial “287(g)” arrangement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which empowers the MCSO, a local agency, to enforce federal immigration law.
Many Latinos taken into custody in recent months by MCSO 287(g) squads have been pulled over for minor traffic violations, such as a broken headlight or an improper lane change, and then arrested when they’re unable to produce proof of citizenship or a valid visa.
Arpaio is a nasty piece of work and it is unlikely he will let up. Alessandra Soler Meetze, executive director of the ACLU of Arizona, said “You’re sort of giving the message that it’s OK to treat these inmates differently. It’s OK to treat them like circus animals.” Meetze added, “He didn’t have to make a spectacle. He could’ve moved them on buses.” In the meantime, Arpaio said his office has received $1.6 million funding from the state that will go toward tackling illegal immigration.
Is dehumanisation is the issue? The point has been made on the blogs that when Iraqi forces paraded five US marines in March 2003, Rumsfeld cited it as a breach of the Geneva Convention, and yet here on American soil we have men defined as criminals, reduced to visual cliché and props in a vulgar display of power. Do these images shock? They shock me. Are they not images of racist control by the state?
Fortunately, Arpaio, try as he might, is not winning the public relations war. His brand of policing is considered by many as direct challenge to law.
Speaking of law. The Phoenix New Times noted, this pantomime just happened to fall “on the same day that his employee and political helper, Captain Joel Fox, is set to appear at a hearing to context a massive $315,000 fine for making an illegal campaign donation in the name of the mysterious “Sheriff’s Command Association,”
Which event do you think average news consumers will remember on Thursday - an administrative hearing concerning a convoluted tale of campaign finance laws, or the image of 200 Mexicans in stripes marching in chains down a public street?
Last year, Arpaio paid a visit to one of his tent jails. It gave him the opportunity for yet another photo opportunity!
I’ll leave you with this eloquent summary of Arpaio’s antics from Kevin Appleby, the Director of Migration and Refugee Policy with U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Shackling and marching fellow human beings for all to see is not in line with the values of the American people. While Guantanamo (Bay) is being closed, another one is being started in Arizona,”
For more images of this circus, see Jack Kurtz’s Blog or Ross D. Franklin’s AP Gallery. If you’d like to book a tour of the Tent City, Sheriff Arpaio’s office can make arrangements. Be sure to wear smart casual.
Thanks to Brendan at Anxiety Neurosis for sharing this through Google Reader