A Predator of Information

Our songs will all be silenced, but what of it? Go on singing.

Why I Am Not in Favor of Pardoning Joe Arpaio

5 September 2017 3:11 PM (society | politics)

Some people seem to think pardoning Joe Arpaio was a good thing. I disagree. There are four arguments they commonly give.

He Was a Good Man Doing His Job

There may be ways in which Arpaio was good at being a man. He seemed to do an excellent job of being both featherless and bipedal, and I grant that he had as much of a soul as any other man. He was a very political animal, but by no means was he morally good. He was also not a good sheriff.

Arpaio kept his prisoners in terrible conditions. Many had not even been convicted of a crime. Even if you (wrongly) think that the guilty should be made to suffer, you must remember that jails hold those awaiting trial as well as those convicted of a crime. Even in the conventional jail, people were denied adequate medical care, especially those with chronic health conditions. Arpaio also reintroduced chain gangs. Here, it's worth noting that his actions cannot be taken as those of a rabid cost-cutter gone a bit too far. The chain gangs lost money. The cost of supervision and the fact that they never brought in revenue show them up as the political stunt they were. This is emblematic of Arpaio's style: Trading in human suffering to polish his image and market himself.

The ‘tent city’ jail was outright inexcusable. Even if we accept his claim that it was reserved for those actually convinced of a crime (it may have started out that way, but it didn't stay that way. The indoor jail was a premium people could pay for), it involved keeping prisoners in 120 degree weather with inadequate hydration, putting them at risk for heat stroke. This isn't theoretical. Between the poor care and the violence done by guards to prisoners, over half of the deaths in Arpaio's jail were inadequately explained.

This means that he killed people to further his political career. It's true, it doesn't rise to the standard of murder. However, he knew what the rate of unexplained death was. Heat stroke, violence, dehydration, inadequate medical care, all of these things are not subtle. Arpaio's acts clearly fall to the level of negligent manslaughter at best.

He Was a Keeping People Safe

Actually, he wasn't. Even he doesn't believe he was. In the 2000s Arpaio repeatedly said that illegal immigration was a minor crime and not really a matter of public safety. His shift to focus on the issue of illegal immigration coincided with it gaining a much stronger political currency.

Further, when he shifted his focus to immigration, he took resources away from what actually were serious matters of public safety. Responses to violent crimes, theft, and sexual assault all suffered. I might add that illegal immigration really isn't that much of a contribution factor to violent crime. (In fairness, it does tend to contribute to 'white collar' crimes since people are hiring illegal immigrants, lying about or getting phony records, that sort of thing. But that's hardly a public safety concern.)

This is Just Political Correctness Run Amok

You know, ‘political correctness’ is kind of a nonsense term the way you use it. Emily Post described the essence of politeness as treating people how they would prefer to be treated. A lot of people who are ‘boldly politically incorrect’ are really just granting themselves a license to be incredibly rude to people for fun. That's on the individual level.

Arpaio did far more than be rude to people. So, let's review the facts. Local law enforcement agents were given the authority to check citizenship status in the investigation of other crimes. That's it. They had no authority to go on fishing expeditions and randomly pull people over and check them. By the strict letter of the law he was violating his jurisdiction. It that bad enough to warrant a contempt charge on its own? Well, let's look at the details.

You might have a vision of a police officer pulling someone over, checking your ID, and that being the end of it. Even if that were it, it's still not proper. I assume you have been stopped by the police, and I assume you didn't like it. If the police were stopping you all the time just to check that you had a license, I don't think you would like it. I've been stopped by the police multiple times just for walking and have them demand identification, and I certainly didn't care for it. Arpaio targeted anyone who ‘looked’ like an illegal immigrant, which basically meant targeting anyone who looked Mexican and insisting they prove they have a right to be in this country. Many of you who support Arpaio think immigrant assimilation is important. I think you could agree that repeatedly targeting people with the message ‘I don't think you're one of us. You don't look like you belong here’ and demanding they demonstrate that they have as much right to be here is not a way to further assimilation. Any immigrant society's goal should be to reinforce the immigrant's identity as one of us as someone who ought to be right here in this country. For second and third generation immigrants, the constant suspicion against them based on their appearance is particularly inexcusable.

But that's not all that happened. Arpaio would sometimes keep people in shackles for hours while he went about checking their immigration status in his own sweet time. That is what prompted a judge to order him to stop, and that is what he resumed in violating the judicial order. Hunting people who have every right to be in this country based on how they look, with no suspicion of a crime, and shackling them is contemptible.

He's an Old Man, He Wouldn't Survive in Jail

Perhaps not the kind of jail he himself ran, no. And I wouldn't favor putting him in one. I don't even think it's necessary that he be jailed. I have no particular desire for Arpaio to suffer, I desire simply that his deeds be recognized as wrong and worthy of shame. I don't desire any particular punishment, except that he be regarded as criminal and barred from holding public office. If our society had some official punishment of Censure and Condemnation, I would be perfectly happy with that. All other things being equal, I would prefer that Joe Arpaio live a long and happy life free of trouble.

As you may have noticed, I am normally contemptuous of the role of denunciation in law. The only exception, for me, is when someone is operating as an officer of the state, enacting what is supposed to be societal will. In this case, denunciation is entirely appropriate. When an officer of the state has acted in clear violation of his office and harmed people, society has every reason to shame and disown his actions and make clear to every citizen that such conduct is unacceptable and to every office-holder that it will not be tolerated.

No responses

Leave a Reply