A demonstration in solidarity with Portland protesters took a militant tone, as demonstrators arrived Saturday at Cesar Chavez Plaza in downtown Phoenix wearing balaclavas and tactical vests, while others carried umbrellas or wore helmets.
About 100 demonstrators showed up at the plaza in the shadow of Phoenix City Hall in support of protesters in Portland, Ore., where federal agents have arrested protesters as part of an anti-protest “surge” ordered by President Donald Trump, testing the limits of their jurisdiction.
Similar demonstrations happened in dozens of cities across the country Saturday, which also marked the two-month anniversary of the killing of George Floyd.
Darien Barrett, an anti-police brutality activist in Tempe and Phoenix, organized the protest, and said that while he intended that the demonstration remain peaceful, “We can’t go down without a fight.”
“Today we aren’t backing down … we can’t show our weak side (any)more,” he said.
Federal agents arrived in Portland on the Fourth of July weekend, garnering national condemnation for their aggressive and legally dubious tactics against protesters. Last week, Portland’s mayor was tear gassed at a protest, and state and local leaders have asked that federal agents leave the city.
Protesters barricade roads, but demonstration ends peacefully
The Phoenix protesters marched through the streets of downtown beginning around 7 p.m., with police following closely behind in patrol cars. As they marched, some demonstrators moved construction signs and barricades, using them to block roadways, slowing down police, who maintained a close distance.
Police got out of their vehicles and moved the barricades or simply drove over them, except when protesters blocked the road in front of the Sandra Day O’Connor federal courthouse, which prevented the police from advancing.
Protesters expressed anxiety at the idea of being arrested, or what might happen to them if police were to break up the protest.
“It’s terrifying, because we are becoming a police state,” said a 23-year-old protester named Marcela who didn’t want to disclose her full name. “We don’t know what (police) will do to us.”
Behind her, an officer in a patrol car announced through a megaphone, “It is unlawful to block a thoroughfare. If you do not comply, you will be subject to arrest.”
Though the crowd seemed prepared for a showdown with police, the night ended instead with verbal clashes.
When protesters returned to City Hall, a group of demonstrators dressed in black began to berate Barrett, accusing him of abandoning the protest he organized. Barrett wouldn’t comment on the disagreement at the protest, but later published a lengthy Facebook post, which has since been deleted, stating that he left to accompany an “older couple” back to their car. According to the social media post, Barrett was surrounded by police cars, separating him from the rest of the group between 10 and 15 minutes.
Barrett also denies that blocking roadways with barricades was a part of his strategy, and said he wasn’t familiar with the people taking part. “I had no idea who they were, and never seen them out before,” he said in a text message after the protest.
Some protesters also became verbally hostile toward the media.
When a group of protesters in black huddled together as a police helicopter whirred overhead, some demanded reporters stop photographing. One protester, her face obscured with a balaclava-like mask shouted “f— journalists.” Similar incidents have happened in other cities, as well.
Before dispersing, protesters decorated the exterior of City Hall with flyers of people slain by police, as well as a banner that read “Black Lives Matter Memorial Plaza” affixed to the doors.
Protesters also burned a “thin blue line” flag inside of a small portable grill in front of City Hall while chanting, “All cops are bastards.”
There did not appear to be any arrests or injuries except for one protester who sprained their ankle tripping on a barricade and another who had an asthma attack, according to Barrett.