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CAN WE ALL AGREE, NOW, THAT THE DISGRACED SHERIFF ARPAIO IS A DISGRACE?

In December 2011, Judge Snow ordered the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) headed by Sheriff Joe Arpaio to cease its practices of racial profiling and “enforcement” of immigration law. The reason? Sheriff jurisdictions are not responsible for enforcing immigration law; federal authorities are.

If Arpaio had complied then he wouldn’t be where he is now and we wouldn’t have a story about his demise to enjoy. Arpaio is currently in court. He has admitted to not adhering to the court order to cease his deputies’ special brand of patrols. His weak-sauce defense is that “things fell through the cracks” and his subordinates made mistakes. The upshot? Deputies didn’t receive any retraining about how not to racially profile and harass Latino citizens.

Arpaio thought he and his office so untouchable that he ignored the court order and instructed his staff to do the same. Arpaio has been battered in court this week. First, a former senior deputy recounted how Arpaio urged him to hold presumed undocumented persons who’d committed no crime, even after ICE had told MCSO that they were not going to transfer them into custody. Second, Arpaio has been on the stand cutting a forlorn figure — unheard of from the man who has personified cocky bullishness his entire career. It’s been humiliating. Arpaio’s apologies seem less than sincere and more the actions of a man with no other options and no other distraction-techniques to call upon. Third, Arpaio admitted that his former attorney hired a private investigator to snoop into Judge Snow’s wife’s life and political affiliations.

If Arpaio’s lawyers aren’t walking out on him, they are coming under question themselves.

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The case is ongoing and there might be more to come. Let’s just say it looks like Arpaio is going to get hit with civil-contempt charges for his non-compliance to the court order. It could’ve been any of dozens of abuses that Arpaio’s enacted, but it seems like it is this one that is to be his undoing. For a brief history of Arpaio’s sleaziest tricks, read this.

Why do I bring all of this up? Well, part of Arpaio’s power plays has been a constant play of the media. He invented pink underwear, adopted striped uniforms, instigated chain gangs. He had prisoners painting curbstones in down town Phoenix in order to put the image of the convict in front of his constituents. He dominated the visual tropes of criminality … and expanded them all. MCSO invited a constant stream of photographers through its facilities to perpetuate Arpaio’s media game and to propel the cult of personality. I’ve written a lot about different photographers’ work from ‘Tent City’ or Estrella Jail (women’s jail) or the chain gangs at large in the desert, but my position — after years of peering at it — is best described in this post Photos That Extend the Jailer’s Narrative.

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An all-female chain gang. Maricopa County, Arizona.

Recently, photographer Anthony Karen contacted me with his photographs from the Maricopa County jails. I felt like I’d said everything about Arpaio that I wanted to say, but when “America’s Shittiest Sheriff” stepped into the courtroom this week, I was excited by the prospect of covering Big Joe and not having to complain. To the contrary, I can positively celebrate these developments. Hopefully, this is Arpaio’s final act in public office and this is the last I’ll ever have to type his name.

I’m thankful for Mr. Karen for sharing his images with Prison Photography and for letting me editorialise our Q&A with this lengthy intro.

Karen made these photographs in Oct 2012, which is to say right in the middle of the 18-month period in which Arpaio’s office was willfully ignoring court orders to cease racial profiling.

Scroll down for our Q&A.

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Prison Photography (PP): You said you wanted to make non-sensational coverage. Did you achieve that?

Anthony Karen (AK): I believe so, although I consider this a work-in-process and would like to return at some point. I did take several images of Sheriff Arpaio’s poster-board ladened office, but it’s a necessary element in my opinion.

Asides from that, daily life in a jail is fairly straightforward for the most part. I say that with the exclusion of the pronounced environmental situation aka the temperatures at Tent City to which prisoners are exposed.

PP: How long were you there?

AK: I spent approximately 6 hours — in the jail and with the female chain-gang outside the facility — over a two-day period.

PP: Why did you go?

AK: I was working on a project with a journalist friend of mine from Norway. Our initial focus was a White Nationalist who conducts his own border patrols in the Vekol Valley in Arizona. The Norwegian publication we were working for thought it would add some dimension if we interviewed Sheriff Arpaio regarding his views on illegal immigration and his unique approach to incarceration.

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PP: Did you have much interaction with Arpaio? 

AK: We spent approximately 45 minutes with him at his office.

PP: What was that like?

AK: Honestly, it was very relaxed. The Sheriff seemed to appreciate my sarcastic sense of humor.

During the interview, my friend asked the standard Tent City questions and Sheriff Arpaio responded accordingly. It was quite obvious he’s been down this interview road thousands of times before. He’s definitely his own man and proud of his accomplishments — he doesn’t seem to be phased by those who disagree with his methods.

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PP: What did you make of the people in Maricopa and Estella jails?  

AK: The correction officers were polite and accommodating to me as a visitor and photojournalist.

Overall, no one seemed bothered by my presence. I was able to interact with the prisoners, but most of my time was spent observing and taking photos as moments presented themselves.

PP: Did they need to be there? 

AK: Unfortunately, there are people in our society who do very bad things. So as far as being incarcerated, yes we need jails and prisons. Might there be a better way to rehabilitate prisoners – yes, and that goes for other institutions as well.

PP: Were they learning, improving, drying out? What was their experience in the jail?

AK: To be fair, I didn’t spend enough time at the jail to answer that question with any authority. I did notice several prisoners occupied with activities such as drawing and reading. That said, I would like to return at some point to observe how prisoners engage in worship, the chain-gang burial detail at the White Tank Cemetery, the infirmary and processing.

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PP: I’ve said many times before that Arpaio is media savvy and controls the message too much. Do you agree, or is there space for photographers to work and forge their own view?

AK: He is media savvy, but I’d imagine that’s to be expected from someone who’s constantly bombarded with interview requests.

I was able to roam freely within the jail, so as a photojournalist his words had little affect on my visual experience. I feel the issue is the journalist(s) that go into a story with only an hour to spare and are lured into the sensational aspects (and let’s not forget the editors role as well) which is all too common these days. Something as simple as non-scripted daily-life is far more interesting to me.

PP: Thanks Anthony.

AK: Thank you Pete.

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© Aaron Lavinsky

PREAMBLE

For 12 years every spring, women incarcerated at Estrella Jail in Maricopa County, Phoenix, AZ, have convened to create, prepare and perform a theatre production. The six-week program —  that culminates in a public show — is called Journey Home.

Photographer Aaron Lavinsky, now based in Grays Harbor, WA, was in attendance for the finale 2012 performance and photographed it for The State Press — the Arizona State University (ASU) student paper. Not satisfied with only a single afternoon’s access, Lavinsky decided to return in 2013 to document rehearsals and to dig into the personal stories of two participants. It is Lavinsky’s photos from Feb/Mar 2013 presented here.

The Journey Home program adopts a different theme each year, but in every case attempts to “enable women to discover a personal sense of constructive identity through movement, visual arts, creative writing and storytelling.” Journey Home is made possible through efforts of committed instructors (in 2013 by storyteller Fatimah Halim; movement specialist Teniqua Broughton; psychotherapist Imani O. Muhammad; and others) and supported by sponsorship from the ASU Herberger Institute for Design ant the Arts.

© Aaron Lavinsky

Estrella Jail, under the administration of controversial Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio presents itself as a case-study of contradiction for us if we are to be responsible consumers of images. Lavinsky’s pictures are hopeful but the carceral backdrop to them less so.

Arpaio has been pursued by the Federal authorities for unconstitutional jail conditions and racial profiling. Arpaio’s use of striped uniforms and pink underwear serves to both manipulate visual readings within the public sphere and to humiliate prisoners. If you need anymore convincing that Arpaio is a special case, look no further than his questioning of President Obama’s birth certificate (although it could just as easily be a calculated publicity stunt).

I’ve written before about how Arpaio’s jails may be the most photographed of any jails or prisons in the nation. His facilities are a media circus often.

Before we get into the Q&A with Lavinsky, I think it is worth us bearing in mind two things — 1. Journey Home is a laudable, but not necessarily typical program. I mean, what happens the other 46 weeks of the year for these women? And 2. All of these women are wearing uniforms branded UNSENTENCED. This means each woman is  awaiting trial; in the eyes of the law, they are not guilty. It might also mean they are kept incarcerated because they can’t meet bail. Everyday, tens of thousands of people wallow behind bars because they are too poor to afford bail. I don’t know what proportion of Maricopa County prisoners are in such a penury situation as bail differs county to state; and judge to courtroom.

Instead of spending too much thought on Arpaio as overlord-to-one-of-America’s-most-shameful-systems-of-detention, I think it’s more responsible meditate on the successes of the women when viewing Lavinsky’s images. And, of course, to hear Lavinsky’s first hand observations.

Scroll down for the Q&A.

© Aaron Lavinsky

© Aaron Lavinsky

© Aaron Lavinsky

Q&A

Prison Photography (PP): Why this story?

Aaron Lavinsky (AL): Journey Home presented enormous potential, but I wanted to go beyond the one-hour performance performed for the public. In 2013, I was interning for the Arizona Republic and looking for a story that could push my abilities as a visual journalist. I decided to cover Journey Home again, but with extended access. I visited back and forth for a month during classroom sessions, the performance, and then follow-ups with two women around whom the story  was centered.

PP: Do theatre and dance workshops such as this occur regularly at Estrella jail?

AL: Not to my knowledge. Journey Home is an annual workshop and while there are other classes, they are more geared toward substance abuse counseling. I’m sure there are elements of creative expression but not on the same level as Journey Home.

PP: As this is a county jail, I anticipate these women were serving relatively shorter sentences. What sort of transgressions were these women locked up for?

AL: Most of the prisoners in the program were there for substance abuse related crimes, which is the case with most prisoners at Estrella. Some of them were serving short sentences while others were waiting for or in the midst of trials that could send them to prison. Both the prisoners I focused on, Renata F. and Robina S. were facing prison sentences of 1-3 years if convicted. Because of their pending trials, I was unable to publish their full names which was one of the stipulations of covering the program.

PP: I’m gripped by the wide smiles in your photos. The women seem to be in the midst of huge enjoyment and heartfelt emotion. Such animation is rare in prisons and jails and rarer still in photographs of prisoners.

AL: I think photographers, for most prison and jail stories, try to illustrate how rough incarceration can be for those inside. I’ve had to make “prisoner behind bars” type photos before for other assignments and they kind of all feel the same looking back. Journey Home is unique in that there is a genuine sense of happiness and camaraderie among the women. I imagine that jail is extremely stressful and Journey Home gave these women an opportunity to let their guard down and be people, not just prisoners.

© Aaron Lavinsky

© Aaron Lavinsky

© Aaron Lavinsky

PP: Did you meet Sheriff Joe Arpaio?

AL: I’ve met and photographed Sheriff Joe a number of times. There is definitely a cult of personality surrounding him in Phoenix and beyond. You see it right when you walk in to Estrella with a portrait of him hanging high on the wall — just out of reach to those hoping to deface it.

Last summer, I photographed Tent City’s 20th anniversary and the entire thing was a bit of a set up. As Arpaio spoke to the media, there were about 30 or 40 prisoners lined up behind him smiling and gesturing to the camera. He served prisoners cake, coffee, candy cigarettes as well as home living magazines with false Playboy and Hustler covers on them. He kind of just let photographers and videographers walk around and shoot whatever we wanted. Arpaio, however controversial he may be, is a smart guy and he knows that we’re on a 24-7 news cycle and if he invites us, we’ll probably show up.

I definitely knew exactly what I was going into whenever I stepped foot in the jails in Phoenix. That being said, certain programs like Journey Home and ALPHA, a drug prevention and counseling program, are genuinely there to help prisoners and aren’t just for the cameras.

PP: What were the women’s thoughts on the jail? How was it serving their rehabilitation, thinking, emotions, family life etc.?

AL: Jail is a rough experience for just about everyone there — prisoners and guards. Nobody I spoke with had particularly nice things to say about their experiences at Estrella. It separated them from their family, homes and freedom. I spoke with one woman in 2012 who was thankful for her incarceration, since she was on a downward spiral with alcoholism, but I got a sense that she was appreciative more of her forced separation from alcohol than with the jail’s rehabilitative resources.

The prisoners really did love the workers who came in to lead workshops like Journey Home. Fatimah, Teniqua and Imani were the leaders of the program and I have no doubt that they made positive, lasting influences in the lives of some of the women who were more engaged in the program.

© Aaron Lavinsky

© Aaron Lavinsky

© Aaron Lavinsky

© Aaron Lavinsky

PP: Was the Estrella Jail Rehabilitation through the Arts program successful?

AL: I think any program, which seeks to positively influence the lives of prisoners instead of simply punishing them, is on some level successful. Something isn’t working since there are more people in the system today then ever before. Any attempt to decrease the odds of people ending up back in jail or prison is a step in the right direction. One of the complaints I received though is that the program was only 6-weeks long. If it’s going on its 12th year, they must know that it’s successful. So why not extend the program for women who are showing positive signs? Or create other programs like it for the vast majority of prisoners who didn’t have the opportunity to take part?

PP: What were the women’s reactions to you and your camera?

AL: At first, there was a ton of camera awareness. Most people aren’t used to having their picture taken by a photojournalist so their first reaction is to smile for the camera. Some of the girls were a little flirty when I pointed the camera in their direction too. By the second day there, I was a complete fly on the wall and was able to move in close without getting stares and smiles in every photo. They seemed thankful that I was there telling their story and covering the program.

© Aaron Lavinsky

© Aaron Lavinsky

© Aaron Lavinsky

PP: What was the staff’s reaction to you and your camera?

AL: Highly professional. I had very good experiences with the staff at Estrella and they didn’t seem to mind me taking their photos one bit. The jail staff were barely interacting with the women when I was there working other than to transport them to and from the classroom we were all in. They seemed to understand what I was trying to do and respected my right to be there taking photos.

PP: Anything else you’d like to add?

AL: Having the opportunity to photograph and observe Journey Home was an eye opening experience. I’m thankful that I was able to document one of the positive initiatives that our penal system is pursuing toward helping prisoners so they don’t make the same mistakes again. I just wish that there were more programs like it and more options for prisoners other then being locked up for a pre-determined period of time, especially for drug offenses. I’ve had enough experience dealing with people with substance abuse issues to know it’s a disease, and should be treated like one to a reasonable degree. I don’t think anyone in there really wants to be addicted to meth or pills or alcohol. I wish the government did more to help people with drug problems instead of just locking them up. It’s not working.

PP: Thanks Aaron.

AL: Thank you, Pete.

© Aaron Lavinsky

BIOGRAPHY

Aaron Lavinsky is an visual journalist based in Grays Harbor, Washington. He is currently a staff photographer at The Daily World in Aberdeen and produces daily and long form photo and multimedia stories. Lavinsky’s work has appeared in The Seattle Times, The New York Times, National Geographic, USA Today, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Denver Post, The Miami Herald, The San Francisco Chronicle and others. Find him on Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter.

A prisoner at the Estrella Jail, Phoenix, Arizona makes a face before he is photographed. © Scott Houston

Friend of the blog, Scott Houston, has a spangly new website featuring not one but four portfolios of his work from Maricopa County, “Tent City” and the show that is Sheriff Arpaio’s chain gangs.

Scott is a New York resident and like most with a camera got out to photograph the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. He sent me some images. I’ve had my own thoughts on the photo coverage of Sandy, so I’ve tried to select an edit here that shows some things other photographs have not – namely Con Ed workers, different-enough compositions and laughter (click any image to see it larger.)

CON ED, MANHATTAN

NEW DORP BEACH, STATEN ISLAND

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Inmates line up for work early in the morning at Estrella jail. © Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

Yesterday, the Guardian ran a gallery of Jim Lo Scalzo‘s photographs of a female chain-gang in Maricopa County (Phoenix), Arizona.

To people who are unfamiliar with the chain-gangs, established by the controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio (the self-titled “Toughest Sheriff in America”), Lo Scalzo’s images may be a shock. Certainly, they are fascinating.

Unfortunately, this is not an example of a photographer gaining exclusive access to an invisible institution. To the contrary, inmates of the Maricopa County Jails are arguably the most frequently photographed prisoners in the United States. Approach Lo Scalzo’s work with caution.

Jon Lowenstein photographed the female chain-gangs in March, 2012 and Scott Houston photographed the all-female chain-gang when it was first established almost a decade ago.* These are only three photographers of hundreds who have visited Tent City, Estrella Jail and followed chain gangs out on to the streets.

The Guardian writes in it’s brief introduction, “Many women volunteer for the duty, looking to break the monotony of jail life.” That might be true, but it is also the message peddled by the Sheriff’s office and it also stops short of asking why these women have been ushered into the jail system. I should say at this point, these are women on short sentences locked for non-serious, probably non-violent offenses, likely drug use, prostitution, petty theft. If I may generalise, they are a nuisance more than they are a danger. They are victims as much as they are victimisers.

What must to do with Lo Scalzo’s photographs – and with others like his – is appreciate how they were made; more specifically we must appreciate the pantomime that is put on display for the public and put on for the photographer.

I have spoken to many photographers who have described how Arpaio directs a “media circus.” I have written before about his press-staged march of immigrant detainees through the streets of Phoenix. He dresses citizens serving time and non-citizens awaiting immigration hearings in the same pink underwear and striped jumpsuits.

Let’s not deny that Sheriff Arpaio is on message, dominates message and understands visual symbols and the power of the image probably as well, if not better, as any of us who make, discuss and revel in photography.

There is certainly a lot more to be teased out about Arpaio’s near 20 years in office and his media savvy, but now I’d like to turn our attentions away from photography and towards a socially-engaged art project of admirable sincerity and complexity which might teach us more about Maricopa County than photographs alone.

Throughout 2011, Assistant Professor of Multimedia Gregory Sale at Arizona State University (ASU), carried forth It’s Not All Black & White a program of talks, installation and interventions at the ASU Art Museum.

It’s Not All Black & White intended to give “voice to the multiple constituents who are involved with the corrections, incarceration and the criminal justice systems.” To establish a discussion around the highly contested issues in a divided community, Sale and his team had to rely upon the trust and input of museum curators, university faculty, students, sheriff’s deputies, incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people, family of the incarcerated and so on and so forth. It is quite remarkable that under the same banner, Sale was able to invite Angela Davis to talk and in another event invite Sheriff Arpaio to a discussion on aesthetics.

Round table discussion at ASU Museum. Joe Arpaio on the right.

Incarcerated men were brought onto university grounds to paint the stripes in the ASU museum, Skype dance workshops were done to connect incarcerated mothers and daughters; the museum space was repeatedly given over to engagement instead of objects.

At the fantastic Open Engagement Conference, I shared a panel with Gregory. He said that for so long Sheriff Arpaio had controlled how people think of stripes and think of criminality in their community.

Gregory said one thing that really stayed with me. He said that for a brief period while It’s Not All Black & White was in the museum and the programmes went on, he was able to wrestle that control away from Arpaio and open a discussion that focused not on the blacks and the whites, but on the grey areas. In those grey areas are hard decisions and hard emotions. But, also in those grey areas, are solutions to transgression in our society that might look to root causes and solutions that engender hope and spirit-building instead of humiliation and penalty.

When we look at Lo Scalzo, Lowenstein, Houston and the works of countless others from Maricopa County we need to bear in mind the stripes and the spectacle of the chain gang is deliberate. Are the photographs showing us only the black and white of the stripes or are the photographs introducing us to meditate on the grey areas? I suspect they do mostly the former.

*Lowenstein had photographed immigrant detainees in Maricopa County’s ‘Tent City’ a few years ago. I included both Lowenstein and Houston’s work in Cruel and Unusual.
© Jon Lowenstein for NOOR IMages. From the series ' Tent City'. Image: LOJ020

© Jon Lowenstein/NOOR Images. From the series ' Tent City'. Image: LOJ020

This image by Jon Lowenstein of NOOR Images from his series Tent City reminded me of some pictures I featured last year when considering the context and readings of images of prison confrontations.

Training Exercise, Team Portrait. Photo Credit: I.M.T.T. 2004

Which in turn reminded me off a tight group of Somali Pirates by Jehad Nga.

Eight Somali pirates sat at the Kenya Ports Authority Port Police station in Mombasa, where they are being held after being handed over to the Kenyan authorities by the Royal Navy. The eight pirates were arrested, and three others killed, by sailors of HMS Cumberland, as they attempted to hijack a cargo ship off the Horn of Africa. The pirates will be charged in a Mombasa court. Credit: AP

Eight Somali pirates sat at the Kenya Ports Authority Port Police station in Mombasa, where they are being held after being handed over to the Kenyan authorities by the Royal Navy. The eight pirates were arrested, and three others killed, by sailors of HMS Cumberland, as they attempted to hijack a cargo ship off the Horn of Africa. The pirates will be charged in a Mombasa court. Credit: AP

…. was today’s New York Times’ rueful statement of fact.

Writers note: These immigrants are undocumented and unsentenced. They are not criminals. This is not prison. This situation is of acute interest to Prison Photography blog because Maricopa County Sheriff’s office is deliberately trying to blur the distinction between these two very different populations.

I recently commented on Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s scurrilous publicity stunt and parading of immigrants in Maricopa County, Arizona. Not only does Arpaio don his ensnared with the stripes of historical chain gangs, he actually puts them to work as such.

Carlos Garcia for the New York Times

Carlos Garcia for the New York Times

Arpaio’s continued antics are firmly in the national spotlight. The New York Times has a long and varied history of comment. His mob-rule is increasingly divisive because a) we now hope for a just application of the law under an Obama administration and b) Janet Napolitano, former Governor of Arizona, and new Secretary of Homeland Security has yet to prove whether she can run the department without trampling human rights AND in so doing put pay to Arpaio’s abuses. The New York Times notes:

The burden of action is particularly high on Ms. Napolitano, who as Arizona’s governor handled Sheriff Arpaio with a gingerly caution that looked to some of his critics and victims as calculated and timid.

Ms. Napolitano, who is known as a serious and moderate voice on immigration, recently directed her agency to review its enforcement efforts, including looking at ways to expand the 287(g) program. Sheriff Arpaio is a powerful argument for doing just the opposite.

Now that she has left Arizona politics behind, Ms. Napolitano is free to prove this is not Arpaio’s America, where the mob rules and immigrants are subject to ritual humiliation. The country should expect no less.

All eyes are rightfully on this situation. It cuts right to the heart of the ideals America professes to uphold. Watch closely.

Approximately 200 convicted illegal immigrants handcuffed together arrive at their new part of the jail as they are moved into a separate area of Tent City, by orders of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, for incarceration until their sentences are served and they are deported to their home countries Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2009, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Approximately 200 convicted illegal immigrants handcuffed together arrive at their new part of the jail as they are moved into a separate area of Tent City, by orders of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, for incarceration until their sentences are served and they are deported to their home countries Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2009, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

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.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, left, orders approximately 200 convicted illegal immigrants handcuffed together and moved into a separate area of Tent City, inmates behind Arpaio, for incarceration until their sentences are served and they are deported to their home countries Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2009, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, left, orders approximately 200 convicted illegal immigrants handcuffed together and moved into a separate area of Tent City, inmates behind Arpaio, for incarceration until their sentences are served and they are deported to their home countries Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2009, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

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.

Feb. 4, 2009, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Feb. 4, 2009, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

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?

Feb. 4, 2009, in Phoenix. Arpaio said housing the illegal immigrants separately would save money, although he did not explain how other than to say it's cheaper to house inmates in tents than at traditional jails. He also said the move will be more convenient for consulate officials visiting foreign inmates and for Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents charged with deporting the inmates after they have served sentences in county jails. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Feb. 4, 2009, in Phoenix. Arpaio said housing the illegal immigrants separately would save money, although he did not explain how other than to say it's cheaper to house inmates in tents than at traditional jails. He also said the move will be more convenient for consulate officials visiting foreign inmates and for Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents charged with deporting the inmates after they have served sentences in county jails. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

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!

Former world heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson listens to Sheriff Joe Arpaio (R) in the tent Tyson will stay in for 24 hours at  Maricopa County Jail's tent city for prisoners in Phoenix, Arizona November 20, 2007. Tyson was sentenced on Monday to three years probation and one day in jail for drug possession and driving under the influence. Tyson is holding a copy of the book "American Gangster"  according to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. REUTERS/Photo Courtesy of Maricopa County Sheriffs Department/Handout

Former world heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson listens to Sheriff Joe Arpaio (R) in the tent Tyson will stay in for 24 hours at Maricopa County Jail's tent city for prisoners in Phoenix, Arizona November 20, 2007. Tyson was sentenced on Monday to three years probation and one day in jail for drug possession and driving under the influence. Tyson is holding a copy of the book "American Gangster" according to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. REUTERS/Photo Courtesy of Maricopa County Sheriffs Department/Handout

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

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