Downtown Tucson is recovering from a weekend of violence and property damage after protests escalated into riots Friday and Saturday nights. Demonstrators took to the streets following the death of 46-year-old George Floyd, who was killed during an interaction with then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin and others.
Protests against police violence were also held in Phoenix, and in countries across the world.
"What I saw was not Tucson and it's not going to be what moves us forward," said Mayor Regina Romero during a Saturday, May 30 press conference addressing Friday night's actions. "Violence only brings violence. Harming local mom-and-pop businesses and inflicting harm does nothing to accomplish justice for Mr. Floyd."
Local businesses, banks, courthouses and the Tucson Police Department Headquarters were all targets of protesters' rage during Friday night's protest in downtown, which caused upwards of $200,000 in damage according to Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus.
"We did our best to contain the problems that were occurring but recognizing in some cases we might have to put up with a certain amount of property damage so as to not risk the safety of our police officers or others in the community," Magnus said. "As Chief, I can never justify compromising the safety when what we're dealing with, at least to start, was property damage."
Tucson Police estimate the protests drew about 350 to 400 people each night over the weekend. About 175 to 200 officers were deployed during Friday's protest and "significantly more" helped out on Saturday night, Magnus said. Officers also made 12 arrests over the weekend, according to Magnus.
The police chief believes much of the destruction came from agitators outside the Tucson community, he said during Saturday's press conference. The department had worked with community leaders to facilitate a similar protest on Thursday night, Magnus said. Since Thursday's protest was peaceful, Magnus said he did not anticipate there would be issues during Friday night's protest.
"We really did not anticipate further problems until it became clear that the character of the gathering was starting to change," Magnus said. "We started to see people that frankly were not from Tucson and they made it clear they were not from Tucson. They started to create an entirely different climate in the hours that followed."
On Friday night, protesters smashed windows, started dumpster fires, and spray painted obscenities about law enforcement on a destructive march as they headed toward TPD headquarters on Stone Avenue. The protest continued until roughly 3:30 a.m. Saturday morning.
On Saturday night, TDP closed several main and side streets—including Congress Street and Broadway Boulevard—hoping to gain more control over the situation and not have a repeat of the previous night. While Saturday's initial protest was peaceful, Magnus said the situation had become more belligerent by early Sunday morning.
Protesters began to double back to the downtown area after Saturday night's march had concluded. Officers tried to contain the situation as protesters attempted to cross downtown's railroad track area but were met with hurled rocks, bricks, bottles of bodily fluids and Molotov cocktails, Magnus said. However, no officers were hospitalized for their injuries during the weekend's melee.
On Sunday morning, Gov. Doug Ducey announced a declaration of emergency including a curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. through Monday, June 8. The order does make exceptions for traveling to and from work, attending religious ceremonies, commercial trucking and delivery services, purchasing food, caring for family members or animals, patronizing or operating local businesses, seeking medical aid or escaping dangerous circumstances.
"This gives law enforcement an additional tool to prevent the lawlessness we've seen here and in cities nationwide," Ducey said in a statement. "Police will be equipped to make arrests of individuals who are planning to riot, loot or cause damage and unrest. Today's declaration also authorizes an expanded National Guard mobilization to protect life and property throughout the state. Our office will continue to communicate with local law enforcement to provide whatever resources we can."
Democratic State Rep. Charlene Fernandez (LD4) released a statement following Ducey's announcement, citing "serious concerns" with the governor's order but urging Arizona residents to comply.
"It is important that this curfew not be used as a license to further escalate tensions, or for Arizonans around the state to have police called on them for malicious or dubious reasons," Fernandez said in her statement. "We must not forget that these demonstrations are a justifiable show of solidarity and frustration over the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, unanswered questions surrounding the shooting death of Dion Johnson by an Arizona Department of Public Safety trooper, and to bring an end to racism and police brutality in our communities."