Touch of Evil (Part 2 of 2)

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Sheriff Joe Arpaio speaking at a campaign rally with Governor Mike Pence at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona, 2 August 2016. (Credit: Gage Skidmore)

Joe Arpaio was detested in Arizona for the very same reasons for which he was idolized. This explains both his electoral victories (Arpaio was re-elected five times) and the vehemence with which opposing segments of the public—especially minorities—viewed his tenure as sheriff.

He delighted in punishing and humiliating inmates in his infamous “Tent City” jail, where temperatures could rise over 100 degrees in the summer: “I put them up next to the dump, the dog pound, the waste-disposal plant.” Prisoners’ meals were cut down: “it costs more to feed the dogs than it does the inmates.” Successful lawsuits against the sheriff’s office for mistreatment of prisoners and wrongful deaths of inmates have been awarded dozens of millions of dollars.

In 2011, the US Justice Department found that Arpaio’s Sheriff’s Office in Maricopa County had “a pervasive culture of discriminatory bias against Latinos … that reaches the highest levels of the agency.” While Arpaio was staging the notorious immigrant raids that landed him in federal court, “his department failed to adequately investigate more than 400 sexual-abuse cases, many involving illegal immigrants.” All criticism of Arpaio (whether by Arizona citizens, members of the press or the federal courts) and his practices were met by him and his supporters with the same tired refrain: the attacks were politically motivated, and Arpaio was simply enforcing the law. “I do have compassion [for the Latino community], but enforcing the law overrides my compassion,” he once said.

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Philip H. Lathrop (camera operator), Charlton Heston & Orson Welles on the set of “Touch of Evil,” 1957. (Credit: Universal Pictures)

Here’s the difference between Joe Arpaio and Sheriff Hank Quinlan in Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil: betrayed in his torment but never asking for pardon or mercy, Quinlan falls to his death (Orson Welles speaks:) in “that wonderful canal—that dirty canal with typhoid in it, into which I threw myself bravely at five one morning.” Unforgiven, Quinlan dies like an unrepentant Satan. Not so “comic heavies” like Arpaio; when confronted with the very arm of the law they violated, they go on conservative blogs to wonder “where Trump was in his time of need,” and speak aloud to media outlets that he “would welcome the relief.” Arpaio accepted Trump’s pardon (which carries the presumption of guilt) with great alacrity. He planned to hold a press conference to “discuss the ‘abuse’ of the justice system.” [1]

Bullies like Arpaio, so quick to claim the rights of the US Constitution for themselves, are also very often the first to deny the same rights to Americans who are poor, or dark-skinned, or speak Spanish.

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Philip H. Lathrop (camera operator), Charlton Heston & Orson Welles on the set of “Touch of Evil,” 1958. (Credit: Universal Pictures)

Before the final sequence in Touch of Evil, Welles’ sheriff visits his former lover—a mystical prostitute (played by the great Marlene Dietrich) who can read the future in cards. Quinlan queries her:

“What’s my fortune?”

“You haven’t got any,” answers Dietrich. “”Your future is all used up.”

Trump’s pardon, like the biblical Mark of Cain, may preserve Arpaio from present punishment. But what should be understood is that the Mark also carries a Curse along with it. Generations after Cain, his descendant Lamech spoke thus to his wives: “I have slain a man to my wounding, and a young man to my hurt” (KJ, Gen 4:23).

As we have learned from Bernard Shaw, if there is no punishment, there will also be no forgiveness.

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Official logo of the movie “Touch of Evil,” 1958. (Credit: Universal Pictures)

[1] Orson Welles and Peter Bogdanovich, This is Orson Welles (New York: HarperPerennial, 1993), 310-311; “Arpaio Pardoned,” The Arizona Republic, August 26, 2017.

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