Many people around the nation have heard of Maricopa County Sheriff, Joe Arpaio; if you believe the sheriff himself, "…there isn't anybody in the world who doesn't know who this sheriff is." Seriously? Somehow I suspect that there are, in fact, billions of people in the world who not only don't know who he is, but don't care either!
Still, the fact that the man would make such an outrageous claim is proof of his indefatigable ego. It is his ego and knack for shameless self-promotion that have surely helped secure him a whole new level of stardom: reality TV star. One of the FOX networks is now running a reality TV series starring the erstwhile sheriff, titled Smile, You're Under Arrest.
Where do I begin? The obvious place to start is by assessing the known character of "Sheriff Joe." Here we have a man who kicks dirt over the line between appropriate treatment of prisoners, and human rights abuses. This is the sheriff who makes male prisoners wear pink underwear, and houses convicts in tent cities in the desert (where temperatures can reach well into the triple digits). As Sheriff Arpaio rightly points out, he is not forcing prisoners to endure anything our troops don't already in the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan. So, is it wrong? I think so, and on both counts; I am ashamed at the state of Arizona, and grieved that our troops should be made to endure those conditions.
So why is Sheriff Joe now a reality TV star? In a word: sensationalism. Americans clearly don't care about human rights or civil liberties (so long as it's not their rights or liberties being trampled). Look at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay — we know the government is torturing people in deep, dark dungeons around the world, and we just don't care. Where's the outrage? Sadly, fervent, vigorous debate has been replaced in this country by countless numbers of mind-numbing televisions shows staring Sheriff Joe and his ilk. Now days, not only do we tolerate "mild" abuses, we elevate them to stardom because of the shocking, entertaining sensationalism they provide. It's no wonder we find places like Guantanamo Bay at the bottom of that slippery slope. I can't help but wonder when our evening news will be followed by a daily dose of The Running Man.
If you consider yourself to be a right-thinking person, a compassionate humanitarian, or socially conscious American, you should not watch Sheriff Joe's new show. In fact, we would all do well to eliminate this kind of rubbish from our lives. If you believe, as I do, that viewing acts of violence, aggression, and inhumanity desensitizes us to the reality of such acts, don't allow them into your mind. I'm not suggesting that one should be uneducated about the issues, nor ignorant of the facts, but don't allow them to use these facts to entertain you. If you would never violate the civil or human rights of another person, I implore you, don't allow yourself to watch someone else do it on TV just for a cheap giggle.
Oh, and one more thing. If you live in Maricopa County, the time has come for you to do the right thing. You have been responsible for one of Arizona's most protracted embarrassments for long enough. It's time for Arizona to be associated with a truly uncompromising sheriff, a true public servant with a deep understanding of human rights. (By the way, have you looked at your crime statistics lately?)