Several hundred protesters descended on Tempe Thursday afternoon demanding the city defund the police by about $22 million and instead use the money to fund affordable housing, preschool and transit programs.
As the protesters marched, they chanted, “The strategy is to defund the police, the goal is to abolish the police, and the attitude is fuck the police.”
The demonstrators marched in 110-degree weather from Tempe Beach Park, south down Mill Avenue, through Arizona State University’s Campus, paused at Tempe Police Department and City Hall, then peacefully ended back at the park. Officers stood behind barricades in front of the police department silently with their arms folded, and were equipped with riot gear when protesters arrived at City Hall.
During a tense moment in front of the police department, protester Neal Candice yelled at the officers that she was praying for them. Others knelt in front of her, yelling, “Hands up, don’t shoot!”
She said she wasn’t planning on saying anything – she intended simply to take a photo to send to her family but – but something just came over her. The first thought she had after she yelled was, “I gotta get out of here, because I don’t know if I’m gonna get shot (or) tear-gassed.”
Black Lives Matter Phoenix Metro, Semillas Arizona, Young Democratic Socialists of America and Tempe Against Police Violence organized the event. Leaders spoke in both Spanish and English, and also had American Sign Language translators for those who needed it.
Miriam A., minister of policy at Black Lives Matter Phoenix Metro, said many people hear “abolish the police” and make a judgement before trying to understand what it means.
“We’re going to defund so we can build something new. So, we can imagine something that, together, that we’ve never been able to imagine,” she said. “Something that’s healthy, something that’s not racist, something that doesn’t stem from a system of colonialism and imperialism. Something comes from the love of the people.”
What this means, she said, is taking the money put into police and relocating it to community building efforts, like education and addressing poverty.
Ali Supreme, one of the protesters, said abolishing the police isn’t about destroying the police, but destroying the mentality that the police have. He said that the youth and young adults on the frontlines of these efforts give him hope.
“This is a new breed of people here in America. America hasn’t seen this breed yet. This is something new,” he said. “And change is inevitable. It’s the only constant element in the universe.”
That’s what William Jordan hopes for. Jordan, who had no idea that the protest was happening, was sitting on his porch waiting for a food delivery as hundreds of people chanting passed his house.
Jordan’s shirt coincidentally said “Strength in Unity,” and he said that was exactly what he was witnessing.
“When things go bad for the country,” he said, “everybody comes together as one.”
Hours after the protest, the Tempe City Council approved its annual budget, including the full $97 million for police.