Updated Jun 25, 2012 - 10:04 am
Thousands of protesters rally outside of the Sheriff's Tent City jail
Critics of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio gathered Saturday for a vigil and rally to protest Tent City, the outdoor complex of canvas jail tents.
Thousands of protesters rallied to demand an end to the Tent City jail. The crowd grew to nearly 3,000 demonstrators who came to voice their opinions about the Sheriff's jail policies.
The activists descended on Tent City, demanding it be shut down for inhumane conditions.
Rev. Geoffrey A. Black with the United Church of Christ toured Tent City Saturday afternoon and said it hurt him to know that this type of jail is allowed to operate.
"I walked around and saw men and women in this kind of heat, living in intense outdoors," Black said.
Protester Rob Mc Elwain was holding a sign reading ‘Arpaio Surrender' at the rally.
"We are here to protest the conditions at Tent City and the kinds of practices that Joe Arpaio has carried out for years here in Phoenix," Mc Elwain said.
Maricopa County prisons were in a security override status and inmates were prevented from seeing friends and family on Saturday.
The protest started at about 6:00 p.m. in front of Tent City, located at 29th Avenue and Durango. Durango was closed between 27th and 35th Avenues during the protest.
Not everyone present was an opponent of the Tent City policy. Rally attendee Kathryn Kobar came out in support of the Sheriff.
"It does get hot in the summer but if you don't want to be in Tent City, don't break the law," Kobar said.
The Sheriff was in attendance at the protest to support his policies and said as long as he's in charge, Tent City is not going away.
"They worry about the heat but I say this over and over again, our men and women are in Iraq, Afghanistan, it's about 115 degrees [Saturday] serving our country," Arpaio said.
Arpaio has come under intense scrutiny for the extreme conditions at Tent City, including blazing hot temperatures, poor quality/spoiled food and lack of medical care for inmates.
The Tent City protest was organized by Puente Arizona, the immigrant rights group, and the Unitarian Universalist Association, which is hosting its annual convention this weekend in Phoenix.
Saturday night's protest cost taxpayers thousands of dollars with Arpaio and Phoenix police departments beefing up manpower. The Sheriff said he's sending the bill to protest organizers.
"This cost a lot of money. You can thank these demonstrators. I am going to check the law and see if I can charge them. I am sure I can't get by with it. We are here defending our tent city, my officers, the Phoenix police," Arpaio said.
Jim Cross, Reporter