Tomorrow, about 50,000 people will take their seats at Chase Field in Phoenix to watch the Major League Baseball All-Star Game.
In order to get to their seats, those lucky to be attending the game will have to pass by a few dozen sad sacks outside the stadium toiling in the brutal Arizona heat picking up trash while wearing black and white striped uniforms and shackled to each other with short lengths of chain.
The stated goal of this humiliation of prisoners, all of whom were busted for driving drunk in Maricopa County, is to warn other would be drunk drivers of the hardships that await them if they’re caught.
The real goal of this travesty is to stroke the evil ego of the meanest man in Arizona -Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Sheriff Joe’s been under the gun lately, beset by scandal after scandal and under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department for corruption, abuse of power and civil rights violations.
So Joe’s doing what Joe does best – attracting attention to himself by mistreating prisoners.
It might seem like a draconian, 19th century way of treating people convicted of misdemeanors (we’re not talking about killers and rapists here), but it plays in Peoria. Voters in metro Phoenix love them some Sheriff Joe. They’ve elected him four times and despite the scandals, he continues to have poll numbers above 50 percent.
It matters not to the majority of Phoenix voters that he illegally misspends taxpayer money, arrests his political opponents on trumped up charges, violates the civil rights of not only convicts and criminal suspects but of those not suspected of anything other than having a similar appearance to people in the country illegally, that for nearly a decade he was supposedly ignorant of outrageous abuses and corruptions by his top deputies or that those abuses and outrages have cost taxpayers millions of dollars in civil suit settlements and potentially tens of millions more.
Nope, as long as Sheriff Joe humiliates criminals and rounds up illegal immigrants he’s golden.
Why does this matter to Tucson or Southern Arizona? Arizona is at a crossroads. For decades our state has been among the fastest growing in the country. Businesses relocated here, retirees retired here and workers moved here for the great jobs. Growth was our business and business was good.
But the abuses of Wall Street and homeowners killed the golden growth goose at the same time that a crisis of illegal immigration occurred in our state.
Our response to the latter crisis, led by Arpaio, has been abysmal. We’re the state of hate now. For some, that’s a reason to rejoice.
But for most of us, it’s a mark of shame and it bodes ill for our chances of reigniting the state’s economic boilers and getting the growth train moving down the track again, bringing jobs and prosperity to all.
So Sheriff Joe is not just Maricopa County’s problem, he’s Arizona’s problem.
And he’s got to go.