With the November elections, came the end of Joe Arpaio’s 24-year run as sheriff of Maricopa County. Now, the inhumane Tent City – an open-air jail where inmates endured extreme weather and forcibly wore pink underwear – that he installed in his first year as sheriff will come crashing down as well. On Tuesday, the man who unseated Arpaio, Sheriff Paul Penzone, announced that Tent City will shut down, according to AZ Central.
An advisory committee that he appointed in January suggested that he shut down Tent City, which Arpaio touted as a cheap alternative to overcrowded jails. In reality, it’s where most inmates ended up. Penzone stated that shutting it down will save the county $4.5 million a year. “The facility is not a crime deterrent, it is not cost efficient, and it is not tough on criminals,” the sheriff said. He compared Tent City to a circus. “Starting today, that circus ends, and these tents come down.”
The process may take up to six months. Of the 800 Tent City inmates, about half of them will move to other facilities in the next two months. But it may take a little longer to place those on work furlough.
Immediately after Penzone’s announcement, Arpaio defended Tent City but said that it was no longer his choice to make. “I’m not going to second-guess him,” he said. “If I was still the sheriff, those tents would never be gone. George Soros got his wish. When he pumped about $5 million against me to get me out of office, he wanted to close Tent City. So I guess he got his wish.”
Arpaio, whose legacy is largely tied to Tent City, spoke about the shuttering in the same way that one may speak about losing a beloved institution to encroaching gentrification. “I’m so proud of the fact that I started this. Once you get those tents down, you will never get them up again because the city of Phoenix has to issue a permit,” he forlornly said. “Do you think the city will issue a permit when half of the city council hates the tents? They will be gone forever and that’s sad.” But this place that fills him with so much nostalgia treats people like subhumans. Arpaio himself has called it a concentration camp in the past.
On Tuesday after Penzone’s announcement, organizers – who played a large role in unseating Arpaio and getting Tent City shut down – gathered outside the southwest Phoenix facility. But they didn’t come to celebrate. Though they acknowledge that the end of Tent City is progress, they know that it’s not enough to undo all the damage Arpaio has caused immigrants and communities of colors.
“We’re really looking forward to seeing this first step, and looking forward to see [Penzone] take many more steps because even though people are no longer going to be in Tent City, they will be transferred to other facilities, [where] they are still not receiving adequate meals, where women are not receiving proper feminine hygiene products, and where [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] is still in the Fourth Avenue jail,” said Maria Castro, an organizer with Puente Human Rights Movement at a press conference. “We hope this is one of many first steps, because this is a community victory. This is something that we’ve been working hard for for many years. And we will continue to fight until we see enough justice for our communities.”
The Maricopa County activists vow to get ICE out of their county. Recently, activists in Santa Ana, California did just that. For three years, they chipped away at ICE’s influence. Until finally, in February, ICE announced that it would no longer maintain a facility in Santa Ana. If the Arizona-based organizers succeed, they’ll deliver another blow to Arpaio, who enacted many anti-immigrant policies during his tenure. And that would put them one step closer to dismantling the culture of Arpaio.