PHOENIX – Several thousand critics of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio gathered outside "Tent City" Saturday night for a rally calling for the closure of the sheriff's complex of canvas jail tents.
Organizers say conditions at "Tent City" complex are inhumane. The sheriff has said he doesn't see any problems with housing inmates in tents and often points out that some members of the U.S. military live in tents.
"We are with you," protesters chanted in both English and Spanish, in hopes that inmates could hear them.
Most protesters held candles and wore yellow T-shirts that read "Standing on the side of love," a slogan of the Unitarian Universalist Association, which was holding its annual convention in Phoenix this weekend.
The rally was the latest effort by the association to promote social justice, association spokesman John Hurley said. The Unitarians organized the rally along with the immigrant rights group Puente Arizona.
The Rev. Peter Morales, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, attended the rally and was among a group that accompanied Arpaio on a tour of Tent City. In 2010, Morales was arrested at a protest in Phoenix over Arizona's immigration law.
Rachel Walden, who works at the Unitarian Universalist Association headquarters in Boston, said the group also gathered Saturday to protest the immigration law.
"We wanted to stand in solidarity with the immigration groups," she said. "We just wanted to be there to have a big presence and say this is wrong."
Arpaio is a national political fixture who built his reputation on jailing inmates in tents during Phoenix's triple-digit summer heat, dressing inmates in pink underwear, selling himself to voters as unceasingly tough on crime and pushing the bounds of how far local police can go to confront illegal immigration.
The U.S. Justice Department has accused the sheriff's office of racially profiling Latinos in its immigration patrols.
The sheriff has said the Justice Department's investigation of his immigration patrols was a politically motivated attack by the Obama administration and denied allegations of systematic discriminatory policing.
The jail complex in west Phoenix was the site of a January 2010 protest that drew 10,000 immigrant rights advocates and was marked by a clash between a small group of protesters and police officers.
The county's jails were closed to visitors on Saturday because of the rally.