We live in two Americas: Joe Arpaio's medieval Maricopa County, where barbarism reigns, and our corrupt top cop parades hundreds of Hispanics through the streets in chains, like captives taken in some feudal conflict from faded memory. And then there's Barack Obama's America, one of enlightenment, and the rule of law, and education and justice. But for the time being at least, Obama's America ends at the borders of Maricopa County.
Joe Arpaio is the King of Maricopa County. He can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants. And today, our sadistic septuagenarian wanted an inhumane spectacle to make everyone ignore the fact that one of his chief underlings, Captain Joel Fox -- the MCSO's bagman -- was being scrutinized over a $105,000 campaign contribution made to the Arizona Republican Party, which was used to smear Arpaio's opponent Dan Saban in the 2008 campaign for sheriff.
It's not the first time Arpaio's pulled something like this, of course. He did it in 2005, when 700 prisoners were moved from one jail to another in only their pink underwear and flip-flops. But this time, for all intents and purposes, Arpaio was segregating inmates according to race, moving over 200 "illegal aliens" to their own Tent City, ringed by an electric fence.
Almost all of the men running the press gantlet were Hispanic. They wore striped uniforms, were chained to each other, and in some cases carried their belongings with them in paper or plastic sacks. Their garb read "UNSENTENCED," a reminder that 70% of those in Joe's jails have not been convicted of anything, and are simply awaiting trial.
It was a sad parade, to say the least. Some of the men hid their faces from the cameras or looked away. But in my estimation, they have nothing to be ashamed of. Rather, it's the MCSO personnel who participated in this obscene farce who should be ashamed. Unlike during Arpaio's anti-immigrant sweep a couple of weeks back, no one wore ski-masks to this Joe Show.
Joe's aged gun-moll/PR wench Lisa Allen informed me before the prisoners were brought by that I would not be allowed into the new Tent City for the undocumented with the rest of the press. I told her she was breakin' my heart, and asked if she had ovens in her concentration camp. She laughed it off. She did seem pretty proud of herself, as if she was the one who came up with this stunt du jour.
After the prisoners filed into their new home, I tried to follow them, but was ordered away by a corrections officer specifically assigned to make sure I didn't get in to ask Joe how he was going to pay for Joel Fox's possible $315,000 fine for successfully skirting campaign finance laws. So I hopped a ride with Sal Reza and some other activists, who were nearby and headed to where a line of protesters led by former state Senator Alfredo Gutierrez was.
On our way out of what is clearly county land, we spotted one of Reza's fellow activists with the group Puente being detained by MCSO for "trespassing." His name is Orlando Arenas, and he was leaving the area when Joe's goons stopped him and arrested him. Reminds me of ACLU legal director Dan Pochoda's arrest at the Pruitt's protests in 2007. In that case too, the MCSO arrested someone for "trespassing" as they were leaving. At least in that case, it was on private property.
Afterwards, the sheriffs' deputies blocked the marchers from coming any closer to the Tent City for Hispanics, and we all walked several blocks over to Maricopa County's Juvenile Courts building.
Assembled for a news conference there were lawyers Danny Ortega and Antonio Bustamante, the AZ ACLU's Executive Director Alessandra Soler Meetz, Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, and others. They denounced the day's events, all while being menaced by about a dozen or more MCSO thugs nearby.
"Doing publicity stunts...like this stunt on the backs of immigrants," stated Wilcox. "We will no longer tolerate that. We will be writing to the United States Justice Department. Things have changed in Washington. We will write a letter that will be answered, and we will put a stop to this."
I wish I could feel as confidant about the new administration, but I am not. Especially since one of new DHS chief Janet Napolitano's first official statements declared her intention to ramp up the 287(g) program. Wilcox also talked about how the BOS had ordered Arpaio to find 20% in budget cuts, and that the Supervisors were unanimous on this. I'll buy the unanimous part when I see the Supervisors actually cut Arpaio's budget themselves, without waiting for Arpaio to follow their directive.
As I was leaving, I waylaid Alfredo Gutierrez, whose new bilingual Web site La Frontera Times is a must read these days, and asked if he knew how Arpaio could top himself after this latest circus act.
"Public floggings," he quipped. "Every time he does one of these things, it increases the level of audaciousness...I used to think, `Well, now, he's gone too far, and the public's gonna have some revulsion to this.' But I don't believe that any more. I think he's got kind of a zeitgeist of hate out there. This Romanesque show is going to resonate."
We talked about how we both thought Arpaio would love to provoke a fight with the Obama administration. And I mentioned that I was pretty cynical that help was on its way from the feds.
"I can't allow myself to get cynical," he told me. "Then there really is no hope. I've got to believe that [the Obama administration] is going to take this on, this level of violation."
I hope he's right, of course. But unless this situation gets the attention it deserves from the national media, I fear Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder will simply leave it to Napolitano to handle, since she has the leash on Arpaio's 287(g) authority. And we all know that Napolitano has made doing nothing into a career.