An unidentified Tempe police officer discharges pepper spray at protesters who were following his orders to back up. The incident took place at a “Chalk Walk” protest outside Tempe Marketplace on June 27, 2020. Screenshot via Lisa Vu | Instagram
A creative protest supporting the Black Lives Matters movement at Tempe Marketplace Saturday went from chalk art to chaos when Tempe police officers tackled three people to the ground and arrested them, while other officers used pepper spray on protesters who were obeying police commands to back up.
Lisa Vu, who posted videos of what happened to her Instagram account, was filming as officers arrested and tackled a protester around 8 p.m. When she and Ryan Tice, another protester, asked the officers what the person was being arrested for, one responded, “None of your business.”
Vu continued to film as she and Tice walked to their cars. Tice said when he saw officers pick up and push a protester, who had their hands up, to the ground, he yelled at the officer to not touch the protester. He said the officer shoved him and tried to grab him, but he evaded the grab and told the officer not to touch him. Then the officer sprayed him in the face with pepper spray.
The officer yelled at Tice and Vu to “move back,” and the pair were complying. The officer then sprayed another burst of pepper spray at Tice, then sprayed Vu, who was filming the interaction.
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Tempe PD’s use of force guidelines say that pepper spray can be used “against violent or non-compliant subjects, and on vicious animals.” Officers are required to issue “a verbal warning that force will be used if the suspect does not comply” unless doing so will endanger officers or “take away a tactical advantage.”
Every use of force by Tempe police officers is analyzed by the department’s Force Review Committee to see whether policies were followed and whether policies or training need to be changed. The committee, which consists of 10 police officers and an attorney, “is not an appeal or review avenue for uses of force.”
Vu said the pepper spray was unnecessary, given that she and Tice were already retreating from the scene as officers had ordered.
“It feels like you’re literally sitting on a fire, like you’re putting fire on your skin. You can’t open your eyes, it just stings, so bad,” Vu told Arizona Mirror in the early morning hours Sunday. “Right now my hands are still burning, my skin is still burning and it’s been four hours.”
Tice stumbled off of the curb as he said “I can’t see.” An officer yelled at him to get back on the sidewalk.
An earlier video, taken by Vu around 7pm, shows officers arresting a woman. In an emailed statement, Tempe PD said the woman and another protester allegedly blocked and prevented “an unrelated Tempe Marketplace customer from exiting the parking lot,” hit and threw items at the vehicle, which “caused noticeable damage.”.
Tempe PD said the victim gave them a description of the suspects involved, and during an attempt to arrest one of them, another protester “actively obstructed officers effecting the arrest” and was also arrested. The officers then located the second suspect that damaged the vehicle and arrested him. The department declined on Sunday to comment on use of force at the incident
In the video, the woman and the protester who tried to intervene with the woman’s arrest both ended up on the ground in handcuffs with officers on top of them.
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Protesters have a different account of what happened with the vehicle that was damaged: The driver was laying on the horn and advanced on the woman protester who was in the crosswalk, ultimately hitting her with the truck at a low speed. The W.E. Rising Project, which helped organize the protest, has been asking for information about a grey truck involved in the incident on its social media accounts.
Vu and Tice were also present at the protest outside President Donald Trump’s speech June 23, where Phoenix police officers fired pepper balls, pepper spray and flash-bangs into the crowd. They said they didn’t expect anything like that to happen at the chalk walk, and noted how officers did not use any kind of weapons at the anti-mask rally held Wednesday in Scottsdale.
“They’re not intimidated by the people, they’re intimidated by skin color,” said Tice.
The chalk walk was organized by Proactive Justice and the W.E. Rising Project. Before the protest at the Trump event, every protest organized by the W.E. Rising Project had ended peacefully.
The W.E. Rising Project declined to comment on Saturday’s arrests in Tempe.
The chalk walk began in front of the Barnes and Noble at Tempe Marketplace. Protesters then moved to the public sidewalk on McClintock Drive after they were informed by security and Tempe police that they were on private property.
Around 100 people, including children, came together to draw for the cause. Colorful chalk artwork depicted protest chants, like “No justice, no peace” and “Black Lives Matter.” Others called for positive change, promoted love and demanded justice for lives lost too soon at the hands of police, including a portrait of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old killed by police officers in Aurora, Colo.
Specifically, protesters called for stores in the shopping center to release security footage of a June 19 incident where a white woman allegedly pulled a gun on Roicia Banks, a Black Indigenous woman, in the parking lot. In a video about the encounter posted to her Facebook account, which now has over 175,000 views, Banks said she would be dead had witnesses not intervened.
Vu and Tice said they plan to continue fighting for racial justice, despite the recent police activity at Black Lives Matter protests. Vu said she films police encounters because, without videos, there is no way to prove when police are in the wrong.
Vu said she has already filed a complaint against the Phoenix Police Department with the Arizona American Civil Liberties Union regarding what happened at the June 23 Trump event, and she plans to file another complaint against the Tempe Police Department regarding the chalk walk.
“We’re not going to stop,” said Vu. “They think that this is silencing us, but it’s making us louder.”
***UPDATED: This story was updated to clarify the interaction between the protesters and police officer that led to the police discharging pepper spray.
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