FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Joe Arpaio is Not an Aberration

Even most leftish white Americans like to think that their country is good and its institutions are fair and equitable. According to this wishful thinking human rights abuses only happen in faraway places and injustices here are resolved by reining in a few bad apples. The facts say otherwise and prove that the United States is consistently one of the worst human rights violators in the world. The cruelty of its prison system extends far beyond headlines of a few well known villains like David Clarke and Joe Arpaio .

Donald Trump’s pardon of former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio is quite rightly a big news story. Trump’s pardon is easily denounced as an obvious violation of the spirit of the presidential pardon process. It was a sham used to circumvent an established process. Arpaio had not even been sentenced for his misdemeanor contempt of court conviction. Full pardons are rare in any case, with examples such as Chelsea Manning’s being far more common. She received a commutation and only after serving seven years of her sentence.

Arpaio is surely deserving of scorn heaped upon him. He referred to his jails as “concentration camps. He held prisoners outdoors in tents, a violation of national and international law. Arpaio was convicted of contempt of court because he continued to detain undocumented people without charge in violation of a judge’s order.

He used intimidation and charged anyone who opposed him with crimes and even faked an assassination attempt which sent an innocent man to jail for four years. Not only were female prisoners shackled while giving birth but he didn’t bother to investigate hundreds of sexual assault cases. The judgments against him cost Maricopa County in Arizona millions of dollars.

But Arpaio differs from the rest of law enforcement only in the openness of his methods. Joe Arpaio was a media whore and relished the attention given to him by Fox news and other right wing outlets. He became a fixture among the people who elected Donald Trump and openly bragged about his untouchability.

It must be pointed out that the United States is full of Arpaios in all 50 states. Two judges in Pennsylvania literally made a fortune sending juveniles to jail. Women in New York state prisons are still shackled while giving birth , in direct violation of that state’s law.

No one knows for certain how many people died in Arpaio’s custody. But there are horrific stories of death in prison all over the country. Prisoners have died of thirst, or from treatable illnesses when denied medication. Some of these cases are brought to light but thousands of others go unreported. In the state of Texas alone, 6,900 prisoners died in custody over a ten year period.

Trump and Arpaio are inviting targets. Both men dispense with niceties and show the system in its barbaric glory. There is no attempt to mince words, beat around bushes or put a happy face on wrong doing. They are forthright in advocating their racism while the prison industrial complex grinds on, destroying lives and sometimes ending them.

Arpaio and Trump show the dangers of allowing open racism to flourish. The Trump presidency emboldens white supremacy but in an ironic way minimizes it too. Mass incarceration is diminished by attention paid to the Trumps and Arpaios in this country. Because of the endless desire to cover up the country’s crimes, the focus falls on the most blatant evils. All the while the system goes on committing an unknown number of human rights abuses in jails and prisons across the country.

The system is built to incarcerate for the sake of incarcerating, and people of color are the primary victims. Their victimizers may not look for publicity like Arpaio did, but their actions as nameless bureaucrats are equally deadly.

It is a grave mistake to reserve outrage and protest for the Trumps and the Arpaios of the world. Doing so allows the other killers to act with impunity. That is why the carceral system must be torn out root and branch. Prison abolition should be the watch words and mealy mouthed talk of reform must be dismissed.

The United States would still have more than 2 million incarcerated persons if Joe Arpaio didn’t exist or if Donald Trump weren’t president. It should not be forgotten that a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, did more to expand mass incarceration than any other. But his successors did nothing to end it either.

The worst criminals are outside of the prison walls. Some of them are well known like Trump and Arpaio but most are faceless as they carry out horrific abuses. The focus of our attention must be on ending the system that allows them all to flourish.

More articles by:

Margaret Kimberley writes the Freedom Rider column for Black Agenda Report, where this essay originally appeared. 

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

June 27, 2019
Kris Hermes
Syrian Refugee Terror Plot or Latest in Pattern of FBI-Manufactured Terrorism Cases?
Charles Pierson
Don’t Leave Nukes on the Shelf. Use Them!
Manuel García, Jr.
American Climate Change Policy: You Don’t Matter
Robert Hunziker
At 100, Gaia Faces its Biggest Challenges
Ramzy Baroud
The Day After: What if Israel Annexes the West Bank?
Peter Bolton
The Failed Venezuelan Coup and the Decline of US Hegemony
Thomas Knapp
One Cheer for Trump on Iran
Robert Lipsyte
Jockpocalypse: From the Ballpark to Team Trump
Rev. Jesse L. Jackson
When Trump Did the Right Thing…Twice
John W. Whitehead
Mass Arrests, Power Grabs and the Politics of Fear
Myles Hoenig
Voter Disenfranchisement in Toronto
Binoy Kampmark
The Pinkerton Effect: The US Marines in Darwin
Michael Galant
Time for a Global Minimum Wage
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
How We Are All Climate Change Deniers
June 26, 2019
Melvin Goodman
The U.S.-Iran Imbroglio: Dangerous Lessons To Be Learned
Paul Street
Reflections and Correspondence at the Abyss
John Laforge
Trump’s Ministry of No Information
Paul Edwards
Fool Me Twice
Rob Hager
Warren and Sanders: Compare and Contrast
John Steppling
The Monkey’s Face
Evaggelos Vallianatos
A World of Shadows
Jaspal Kaur Sadhu Singh
Correcting a Colonial Injustice: The Return of the Chagos Islands to Its Natives
Binoy Kampmark
Violent Voyeurism: Surveillance, Spyware and Human Rights
Jonah Raskin
Reflections on Abbie Hoffman and Joshua Furst’s Novel, Revolutionaries
Dave Chapman
The Hydroponic Threat to Organic Food
June 25, 2019
Rannie Amiri
Instigators of a Persian Gulf Crisis
Patrick Cockburn
Trump May Already be in Too Deep to Avoid War With Iran
Paul Tritschler
Hopeful Things
John Feffer
Deep Fakes: Will AI Swing the 2020 Election?
Binoy Kampmark
Bill Clinton in Kosovo
Kenneth Surin
Brief Impressions of the Japanese Conjuncture
Edward Hunt
Is Mexico Winding Down or Winding up the Drug War?
Manuel E. Yepe
Trump’s Return to Full-Spectrum Dominance
Steve Kelly
Greed and Politics Should Not Drive Forest Policy
Stephen Carpa
Protecting the Great Burn
Colin Todhunter
‘Modified’: A Film About GMOs and the Corruption of the Food Supply for Profit
Martin Billheimer
The Gothic and the Idea of a ‘Real Elite’
Elliot Sperber
Send ICE to Hanford
June 24, 2019
Jim Kavanagh
Eve of Destruction: Iran Strikes Back
Nino Pagliccia
Sorting Out Reality From Fiction About Venezuela
Jeff Sher
Pickin’ and Choosin’ the Winners and Losers of Climate Change
Howard Lisnoff
“Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran”
Robert Fisk
The West’s Disgraceful Silence on the Death of Morsi
Dean Baker
The Old Japan Disaster Horror Story
David Mattson
The Gallatin Forest Partnership and the Tyranny of Ego
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail