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Against racist sheriff Arpaio

Arizona detainees on hunger strike

Published May 28, 2009 9:38 PM

Prisoners began a hunger strike May 2 to protest the degrading and inhumane conditions they endure in the jails run by the notoriously racist Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The crimes of Arpaio are well documented: housing inmates in sweltering tent-cities, parading them through the streets of Phoenix like slaves on their way to the auction block, serving spoiled food referred to as “slop” by the inmates, and denying adequate medical treatment. Arpaio has continued to try to whip up anti-immigrant hysteria in any way possible.

The hunger strike was initiated by women detainees at the Estrella Jail immediately following a march and rally of 3,000 people protesting Arpaio. The hunger strike spread to the Durango and Downtown jails, with between 1,800 and 2,000 inmates refusing meals. Arpaio retaliated against the hunger strikers by placing the jails on full lockdown, denying the inmates their visitation rights, telephone calls and access to television. Despite this, the hunger strike continued.

On May 20 the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed suit against Arpaio last July over inhumane conditions at the jails, condemned the lockdown, stating that the hunger strike is a form of constitutionally protected free speech. An ACLU statement recounted the court injunction won against Arpaio last October for “failure to provide adequate nutritional food” to detainees. On May 22 Arpaio lifted the lockdown order.

Close to 70 percent of the prisoners in Maricopa County jails are pre-trial detainees; they have not been convicted of any crime. Arpaio fills his jails through racial profiling and conducting heavily armed sweeps of Latina/o neighborhoods. He has created his own private militia known as “the posse.”

Women inmates are often victims of the worst intimidation and brutality by jail guards. Sylvia Herrera of Puente AZ, a Phoenix-area community group involved in organizing the May 2 protest against Arpaio, recounted two recent cases of physical abuse against women in Arpaio’s jails.

Jail guards broke one woman’s arm attempting to force her to sign a “voluntary” deportation document. In another case a pregnant woman was immediately separated from her newborn child after a Cesarean birth and returned to the jail without receiving proper post-Cesarean medical treatment. Herrera says these incidents are known only because the women eventually had to be transported from the jail to a hospital.

Community events are planned in Phoenix-area neighborhoods to show solidarity with those inside Arpaio’s jails. Activists will let it be known that racism, anti-immigrant hysteria, and torture and mistreatment of detainees will not be allowed.