Sheriff Joe has just declared the jail lockdowns caused by massive hunger strikes ongoing in his vast incarceration complex to be over. The MCSO issued a press release on the matter, stating that, "Effective today, May 22, 2009, the Maricopa County jails that have been on indefinite lockdown [sic] will be lifted by Sheriff Arpaio."
And though reading MCSO press releases is a little like reading between the lines of Pravda back in the day, this one does admit Arpaio's putting an end to the lockdown, even though the hunger strike is not over, by MCSO's own admission.
"During the past week [the] number of inmates refusing to eat ranged from 1800 to just a handful last night," notes the statement, which then quotes Joe as promising, "If the hunger strike comes back and the threats resume, the lockdown will be re-instituted."
What exactly is a "handful" to the MCSO? Out of 1,800 men, would that mean 50, 100, 200? Whatever it is, Arpaio seems to recognize that a handful could multiply quickly in the wake of this announcement.
Yet Arpaio promised the Republic earlier in the week that the, "Lockdown will continue until they start eating again." Maybe the self-proclaimed toughest sheriff in the universe meant to say, "until they, er, mostly start eating again."
The press release ends in typical Arpaio bluster, with a swipe at the ACLU's recent denunciation of the lockdown as a violation of prisoners' First Amendment rights.
"In case people didn't know, I run the jails, not the inmates or my critics," huffs Arpaio
"If you have to state publicly that you're in charge, that means you're not in charge," chuckled Phoenix civil rights activist Salvador Reza of the group Puente, after being read the release. Reza said he and his colleagues have organized seven candlelight vigils in support of the strike, beginning the first week in May, when they began to hear news of the fasting from relatives of prisoners.
The vigils have mostly taken place outside of Joe's jails, but last night, one was held at the Macehualli Day Labor Center, near 25th Street and Bell Road. Reza said 40 families came forward to tell how they'd not been able to check on their loved ones via phone or visits.
Asked if he thought the hunger strike was losing steam, Reza said it was too soon to tell, and suggested that the inmates might next boycott the sheriff's canteen system, which sells candy bars, potato chips and other items to inmates at inflated prices, with money deducted from prisoners' jail accounts.
"Arpaio hasn't changed anything," observed Reza. "And unless Arpaio changes the way he treats human beings, he'll probably get more resistance."
Reza said he was planning another vigil for early next week, with the time and location to be announced.
"Never in my life have I ever heard of a peaceful action of this size inside of a jail," Reza noted, adding,"I guess Joe can't scare all of the people all of the time."
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