Last week was pretty bad for a number of reasons, one of those being that Donald Trump pardoned the former sheriff of Maricopa County, Joe Arpaio, who had been terrorizing immigrants in Arizona since 1993 up until this past November.
Arpaio getting voted out of office is one of the few hopeful things to come out of Election Night 2016, thanks in part to the Bazta Arpaio campaign, which was launched in August of last year.
By now you may have heard of the number of atrocities that happened under Arpaio, like these uninvestigated allegations of sexual abuse, many involving children. For a rundown of Arpaio's reign of terror, check out this excellent and necessary thread from Phoenix New Times, which has been covering Arpaio's bullshit for a very long time.
If there's one thing that has become synonymous with Arpaio, it's his outdoor prison known as Tent City, which opened in 1993. Last April, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office announced they would be closing the prison within six months. Prisoners were housed in repurposed Korean War tents and conditions inside were so extreme that former inmates assembled a survival guide that's still available for sale online.
Inmates were forced to wear pink underwear, something Arpaio did because he said the underwear were getting stolen and dying them pink supposedly put a stop to it. The underwear became such a hit with Arpaio's fans that they began selling it online, along with golf club covers depicting a headless torso wearing prison stripes and of course, the pink underwear. It wasn't enough to put people in a hellish prison, Arpaio had to make a show of it in order to appease a rabid constituency who finds entertainment in human suffering and somehow thinks they're the ones under attack.
The link to pinkunderwear.com, which used to be accessible through a link on the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office's website, now leads to a youth foundation where Arpaio donated the proceeds of the underwear sales.
When I saw the news of Arpaio's pardon, I can't say I was surprised. This system was built to benefit men like Arpaio, and I knew inside there was no way in hell this 85-year-old monster would spend a day on the other side of the bars.
But my lack of surprise should not be mistaken for a lack of anger.
It's a huge "fuck you" to the people who've been fighting for years just to see at least a modicum of justice served. It's an insult to the people everywhere who have suffered because of the poisonous effect of his policies and the culture of open, gleeful cruelty he proudly represents.
Arizona might seem like a world away, but the atrocities there are closer to home than most of us realize.
Just two years ago, Joe Arpaio came to Salem and spoke at a rally sponsored by the Oregon Republican Party. I was at the event and watched while they auctioned off pairs of the pink underwear, commemorative coins and a bunch of other pointless crap to a very excited crowd. A handful of GOP representatives spoke at the rally, including Kim Thatcher and Sal Esquivel, whose father came to the United States during the Bracero Program.
What their warm welcome of Arpaio should show you is that his ideas and influence have a home in this state. Oregon residents are living in fear of sweeps not unlike the ones Arpaio was a champion of, and so the question is now what do we do in order to confront this problem that neither began nor ended with him? Here's a few things to think about:
1. Just because Arpaio probably wasn't going to spend a long time in jail doesn't make his pardon any less hurtful or dangerous. This is basically the system, via Donald Trump, giving oppressed people the finger. Just know that phrases like "He wouldn't have gone to jail for long anyway," or your shock at this somewhat predictable action doesn't make me feel any better when my family's existence is threatened by those who support his ideology.
2. His beliefs and what he represents are not uncommon. Remember the Oregon Republican Party that I mentioned earlier? Those guys seemed cool with Arpaio not too long ago. What policies are they supporting now that focus on restricting the rights of Oregon's immigrants? Where did they get those ideas and who is organizing now to oppose them?
3. Do you know what to say when one of your friends or family voices their excitement over Arpaio's pardoning? Are you ready to ask them which of his heinous actions they approved of and why? Are you ready to have some uncomfortable conversations? Because there will be more Arpaios, and while he may not serve a single day in jail, we can work now to make sure his hateful legacy doesn't continue here.