A peaceful protest of President Donald Trump outside of Dream City Church ended quickly Tuesday afternoon as the president spoke to some 3,000 attendees when Phoenix police officers fired flash-bang grenades, pepper balls and pepper spray into the crowd of more than 200 people, declaring it unlawful.
The protest, organized by the W.E. Rising Project, walked from Cave Creek and Cactus roads in northeast Phoenix to the designated “free speech zone” surrounded by gates outside the church, about a half-mile away. After chanting in the zone, and running into about 10 counter-protesters, they walked to the entrance of the church where they were met with officers denying them entry.
The protesters returned to the free speech zone, waiting to see Trump leave the church, so they walked a few hundred feet outside of the free speech zone to the intersection of Cave Creek Rd. and Sharon Dr.
Protesters were asked by officers to remain on the sidewalk, and they did.
Officers equipped in riot gear lined up one by one across Cave Creek Road and slowly took steps forward as protesters yelled, “We are on the sidewalk?” Others yelled “I don’t see no riot here, why are you in riot gear?”
Then, a series of gunshot sounds were followed by screams.
Two minutes after the police began firing pepper balls into the crowd, an announcement was made using a long-range acoustic device, or LRAD, that the assembly had been declared unlawful.
The flash-bangs, pepper balls, pepper spray and the subsequent unlawful declaration seemed unwarranted. Gabby Walton has attended several protests in the past weeks in support of the Black Lives Matters movement, but this is the first she’s attended that was declared unlawful.
“They’re suppressing our voice,” said Walton. “They’re basically saying, ‘You guys don’t matter. You guys don’t have a voice.’”
And a voice is important, Walton said, especially today. This is the first presidential election she is old enough to vote in, and she said young voters need to vote for a world they want to live in, because older voters won’t have to live in it as long.
W.E. Rising said on Twitter that Phoenix police officers attacked the crowd at the Trump protest without provocation, and before ordering protesters to disperse.
The Police attacked us, before even declaring an un-lawful assembly.
— The W.E. Rising Project (@WERisingProject) June 24, 2020
In an emailed statement, Phoenix Police Department spokeswoman Sgt. Ann Justus said two protesters “committed aggravated assault against police officers when they each swung at and struck two separate officers.” She also said that other demonstrators threw objects at police, which led them to fire flash-bang grenades, pepper balls and pepper spray into the crowd.
“At this time, no arrests have been made,” she said.
Before police fired projectiles into the crowd, protesters called for justice for lives lost too soon to police brutality, like Dion Johnson and Breonna Taylor, the defunding of police and investment into the community, like education. They also chanted for “no kids in cages,” referencing family separation in ICE detention centers.
J.T. Lee, 40, said he came out to protest, despite the rising COVID-19 cases, to show Trump that there is strength in numbers, and that they are ready for a leadership change. He said he doesn’t think that the president cares about the people of Arizona, because if he did, then he wouldn’t be speaking at an event where CDC guidelines are difficult to maintain.
“This is an election that people are gonna look back generations from now and say, this is where the fork in the road was,” said Lee.
Arizona on Tuesday reported a record 3,591 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 58,179. In all, 1,384 Arizonans have died of the illness.
The City of Phoenix requires people in public places to wear masks or cloth face coverings to limit the spread of COVID-19, but did not enforce the mandate at Trump’s rally.
***CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Phoenix police officers fired tear gas into the crowd of protesters. Phoenix Police Department says it fired flash-bang grenades, pepper balls and pepper spray.