The Rev. Peter Morales, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), and the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ (UCC), on June 23, 2012, issued a joint statement in response to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's decision to prohibit visitation in Tent City and five other Maricopa County jails in advance of a prayer vigil to protest inhumane conditions:
"This action by Sheriff Joe Arpaio is irresponsible and mean-spirited. He is using our peaceful religious demonstration at Tent City as a pretext to punish inmates and their families there and at the five other county jails. Instead of shutting down the jails for one day, Arpaio should shut them down for good," affirmed Rev. Morales.
"The inhumane treatment of persons incarcerated at tent city is appalling," observed Rev. Black. "These are indeed our brothers and sisters. I am sure that anyone seeing these conditions first hand would be as repulsed as I am. I hope and pray that our visit will shed additional light on this immoral abuse of power."
Following the release of the statement, Unitarian Universalists and United Church of Christ members gathered for the candlelight vigil to shine a light on the human rights abuses inflicted upon those being held at Tent City, including overcrowding, inedible food, and dangerously high temperatures.
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 130s. 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.
UCC leaders were in Arizona in conjunction with the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association. The candlelight vigil was just one of several justice-related activities during the course of the assembly. On Sunday, June 24, a small delegation finally was permitted to visit Tent City.
"The UUA Assembly has been a phenomenal experience. Geoffrey was a bold UCC voice at the rally following their visit; he called [Tent City] a national disgrace that can no longer be ignored and promised solidarity from the United Church of Christ," said the Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo, executive minister of the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries. "I couldn't help but weep in gratitude for his words and lament at the sight of this horrible display of inhumanity inside this barbed wire enclosure holding people in abusive conditions; people who have never been charged of any crime."
Learn more about the delegation's visit to Tent City.