PHOENIX – Waves of protests, rolling across Arizona in the last several days like a tributary in a national unleashing of fury and grief over the deaths of black people at the hands of police, kept flowing on Tuesday night.
Hundreds gathered in downtown Phoenix in what has now become a familiar place — Phoenix police headquarters, according to local media reports.
State Rep. Reginald Bolding, speaking of the family of Dion Johnson, who was killed in a Memorial Day encounter with an Arizona state trooper, said law enforcement needs training, accountability and transparency to move forward from Johnson’s death. He died the same day as George Floyd, whose death after Minnesota police officers knelt on his back and neck ignited protests in Arizona and around the country.
Johnson’s last minutes aren’t known because Department of Public Safety troopers don’t yet wear body cams. But in Minnesota, video from onlookers, many of them pleading with police to stop, captured the 8 minutes and 46 seconds of pressure placed on Floyd’s back and neck on May 25.
Those minutes have led to days of largely peaceful protests, clashes with police, looting and vandalizing businesses in downtown Phoenix and an upscale mall in Scottsdale, leading to scenes of police kneeling before protesters, a statewide curfew, more protests by hundreds and much debated scenes of police kneeling before protesters.
The protests also come a few months after the Phoenix City Council backed reforms at City Hall that call for the creation of an entire agency for civilian oversight of police and a community outreach system. A viral video led to that decision as well.
Gov. Doug Ducey declared a statewide emergency and called for a curfew after the weekend looting and vandalism of Scottsdale Fashion Square, a magnet for high-end shoppers in a city where the median income is $85,000. According to media reports, some people decided to take their anger to an affluent area.
Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane said he asked Ducey to declare the weeklong curfew, which began Sunday night.
Lane had planned on implementing a similar curfew in the city that would put discretionary power in the hands of the chief of police.
“The only thing I did with it specifically is to make sure we kept it as confined as possible,” Lane said. “We don’t want to put any further burden on our population.”
The order exempts businesses and has other limits. Still, some Arizona businesses closed by the 8 p.m. curfew and at least one business in the Scottsdale Quarter that had recently reopened after the pandemic shutdowns closed as a precaution.
During a Monday night protest outside of Phoenix Police headquarters downtown, protesters began to chant, “take a knee” to police officers. A handful of the officers showed their solidarity by kneeling with the protesters.
“It was a pure expression of peace,” Police Chief Jeri Williams told azfamily.com after the protest.
Some protesters on social media said police kneeled in Arizona and elsewhere in the country as a sign of connection and solidarity, while others questioned whether the move was genuine or manipulative.
Bolding said the motivation was a good one but it will take policy changes to get our country to a place where certain people will feel safe.
“It was a good shot for photographers and it was a talking point,” said Bolding, a Democrat who represents District 27. “The reality is: no kneeling, no statement, no letter is enough. I appreciate the kneeling from the police department – it shows humility – but what we need is policy change.”
Bolding said one policy that needs to change is equipping DPS officers with body cameras, which was in Ducey’s budget for next year. The Phoenix Police and other agencies have equipped officers with body cameras.
“We have an obligation as a government to provide as much transparency as possible and this case is not getting that transparency,” Bolding said of the Johnson case.
The Johnson family released a statement saying they do not condone violence that results from the protests, but they are demanding more answers, according to 12news.com.
“A lot of questions unanswered,” said Erma Johnson on Friday night. “A lot of things that I would want to know that happened to my son in the last minutes of his life.”
“The Johnson family has been hopeful in this process and they truly believe that justice will be served,” Bolding said. “The things they’re asking for are things any family would want to know and we have an obligation to provide as much information as we can.”
Cronkite News reporter Isabella Martillaro contributed to this story.