Several thousand gathered outside the Tent City jail complex Saturday night to protest inhumane conditions maintained by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
The peace vigil was organized by the UUA, and drew nearly 2,000 people, many of whom arrived in busses from the Phoenix Convention Center, site of the UUA Justice General Assembly. People lined the streets in yellow Standing on the Side of Love shirts, waving battery-operated candles. A small nearby counter-protest organized by Arpaio supporters drew less than 100 people.
The crowd sang and chanted, “Shut it down. Shut it down.” “We just got word they can hear us in Tent City,” emcee Dulce Juarez told the crowd.
Complaints of cruel and unusual punishment have been lodged against the outdoor complex since Tent City opened in 1993. In the desert heat, temperatures in the tents have reportedly reached into the 130°s. Tent City has been condemned by numerous human rights organizations, and given rise to lawsuits charging civil rights violation. The U.S. Department of Justice is suing Arpaio and Maricopa County for civil rights violations, including what it said is the long-standing racial profiling of Latinos.
“We have to take it down,” UUA President Peter Morales told the crowd. “I am so sad this can exist in my country today.” He was joined by religious leaders from other denominations, as well.
The Rev. Geoffrey Black, president of the United Church of Christ, said, “What we’re looking at in this prison is a national disgrace.” He urged people to tell others about it and find allies to fight against it. “You found one in me and in the United Church of Christ. We’ll stand with you and join you.”
The Rev. Dr. Warren Stewart, of the First Institutional Baptist Church in Phoenix, led a chant of “Sheriff Joe, tear down Tent City.” He said that a nearby Maricopa County animal shelter does not leave its animals out in the heat all day and night like the prisoners in Tent City. “It is an ungodly, inhumane display of [Arpaio’s] insatiable arrogance,” Stewart said.
Also see our selection of real-time reactions to the vigil on social media.