Arizona leaders react to George Floyd death, Phoenix protests
National protests over the death of George Floyd, who was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis on Monday, reached Phoenix Thursday night.
Hundreds of Arizonans gathered in downtown Phoenix, standing in solidarity with Floyd and other Americans who were killed by police officers.
On Friday and earlier this week, several Arizona leaders spoke out, saying the killing was indefensible.
On Thursday, protesters in Phoenix called for the arrest of Derek Chauvin, the white police officer who knelt on the neck of Floyd, who is black, for several minutes after restraining him. On Friday morning, Chauvin was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.
The protest was mainly peaceful, but police declared an unlawful assembly shortly before 11 p.m. When some protesters did not disperse, officers used rubber bullets and pepper spray. Protesters threw water bottles and rocks back.
In Minneapolis Thursday night, a crowd set fire to a police precinct on the city's third night of protests.
Phoenix police chief Jeri Williams speaks
Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams, who spoke at a news conference Friday morning to address the protest Thursday night, said her officers acted appropriately in handling the demonstrators. She said the protest started off peacefully but led it to some people to damage police property. She condemned their behavior, saying that as a community we “cannot stand for criminal behavior.”
“I think the Phoenix Police Department engaged and reacted amazingly last night,” she said.
She asked that anyone who wants to protest, “please make it peaceful and we will be there to help, support and assist.”
On George Floyd, she said she doesn’t know all the details of the case, but like many she has seen the video and she was outraged.
“Every time that we watch a video of something happening that’s so so tragic as police chiefs we all sit back and think, ‘Please let’s just not (this happen) in my city, in my agency,’” she said.
A case like this, even if it’s outside of Arizona, can deter relationships with the community locally, she said.
“This one instance that happened, rolls back trust, years,” she said. “And this didn’t happen in the Phoenix Police Department, it happened in other places.”
Williams had previously stayed silent about Floyd's death, which was captured on camera and has caused national uproar. Many other police chiefs across the country, including Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus, have weighed in on the death.
"Indefensible use of force that good officers everywhere are appalled by. This is contrary to how PROFESSIONAL police officers train & conduct themselves. Conduct like this anywhere makes it more difficult for police everywhere to build community trust," Magnus tweeted on Tuesday.
The Phoenix Police Sergeants and Lieutenants Association also released a statement.
"We want to make it clear that we do not condone nor support the actions of the officers who were involved in the death of Mr. George Floyd. The actions by the officers shown on the videotape do not represent the training nor the values of the vast majority of the 800,000 police officers in this country, and especially here in Phoenix.
"As with all criminal suspects, we ask that due process be observed and that the justice system be allowed to run its course in the case of the Minneapolis officer. Our prayers and condolences are with the family and friends of Mr. Floyd."
City, county officials react
After Williams' news conference, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego spoke publicly about Floyd's death for the first time. In a statement, she said, "It's hard to know what to say at a moment like this."
"People are hurt, upset and angry, and they have a right to be. This pain and frustration comes from a lived experience that isn't mine but that does not diminish the role I must play in helping to change the future," Gallego said. "Part of my job in a moment like this is to listen above all else."
Gallego said Floyd's killing "takes place against a backdrop of systemic inequities, particularly for African-Americans."
"We all have a responsibility to address this inequity. People are right to stand up and demand change," she said.
Gallego said all public servants must have high standards, including law enforcement officers. She said many officers are reflecting on Floyd's death and are "motivated to work even harder to build greater trust with communities where that relationship has eroded."
"As we work to implement change and push toward racial equity, I ask residents to continue to look out for one another and recognize that hurt begets hurt," she said.
Councilman Sal DiCiccio, a frequent critic of police protesters, said in a statement, "Attacking police and destroying property in Phoenix for something that happened in Minnesota is ludicrous."
"I don’t know of anyone here — myself included — who hasn’t condemned what happened to George Floyd," he said.
DiCicio said a rogue police officer murdered Floyd.
"This wasn’t the 1800s, it was today. Let that sink in. We should all be angered," he said.
But, DiCiccio said, the 700,000 other police officers in America should not be labeled by the acts of "one rogue officer."
"Unfortunately, the anti-police movement used this to riot and destroy property in Phoenix last night. They must be held to account and prosecuted to the full extent of the law," he said.
Councilman Carlos Garcia — who has long criticized police officers for excessive use of force, particularly in communities of color — said in a statement that excusing Chauvin as a "bad apple" is inappropriate.
"All of us across the country feel the pain, this isn’t new for black people, who have historically experienced institutionalized racism and police violence around the country and in Phoenix. We are with you," he said.
Garcia also said the Phoenix Police Department used excessive force on protesters on Thursday night by using "chemical weapons and surveillance against people exercising their First Amendment right."
"We will continue to push for accountability and transparency in Phoenix, but we know policing won't bring us safety. There is not one answer on how to fix this, but not doing anything will lead to more death and us becoming accomplices to it," he said.
Vice Mayor Betty Guardado said she was heartbroken by Floyd's death and called for the "full and fair prosecution of all officers involved."
She said it is important "for the voices of the most disproportionately impacted to be heard."
In honoring his life and others, "it is my hope that as a community we can remain peaceful and determined in accomplishing these goals. I have faith Phoenix can lead the way — be heard and be safe," Guardado said.
Councilman Michael Nowakowski said he is outraged by Floyd's death. But he said violent protests "are not the solution to bringing justice to the Floyd family."
"It is disappointing that a few participants used this protest as an excuse to incite violence. The actions of a few were unacceptable and put our city in harm’s way," Nowakowski said of Thursday night's protest.
He commended the actions of the Phoenix police and fire departments.
"They facilitated the protest, blocking roadways, protecting taxpayer and private property, spoke with those involved to make sure everyone was safe, and provided medical assistance to demonstrators," Nowakowski said.
He also thanked people who chose to protest peacefully, "following the example of Cesar Chavez and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s powerful and nonviolent protests that were impactful and long-lasting."
Tucson Mayor Regina Romero also made a statement via tweet Wednesday. "My heart is heavy after learning of the atrocious events that led to the killing of #GeorgeFloyd. I'm outraged that another unarmed black human being has lost their life to an incomprehensible & disgusting act of violence. We must demand accountability & justice. #BlackLivesMatter"
Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel issued a statement Saturday.
"As County Attorney, I took an oath to seek justice for the residents of Maricopa County. The hurt and outrage expressed in the past several days demonstrates that there are many in our community who feel justice is out of reach and as a prosecutor, this is a sobering realization.
"I want to express my support of those who seek justice and stand by a person’s first amendment right to peacefully protest. However, this office will not tolerate the efforts of those who choose to use dangerous, destructive or lawless actions to demand justice. We will hold those who choose to break the law accountable."
State lawmakers respond
In a statement Friday, the Arizona Senate Democratic Caucus said, "It is honorable to protest and a deeply American act.
"Racism is an insidious infection that has run through this country for centuries and is embedded in every level of society. What happened in Arizona last night is not an outlier by any means, as our own state has three cities — Phoenix, Tucson and Mesa — in the top major cities with police killings," the statement said.
The caucus said it is committed to learn from those closest to the problem and elicit change.
"We cannot sit idly by and listen to the cries of pain, to the cries for justice and do nothing," the statement said.
Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, didn’t mince words in a tweet posted early Friday morning.
"While you were sleeping, the president called the military to shoot protesters and Minneapolis police arrested a CNN reporter live on the air for covering their activities,” she wrote. "Meanwhile, a major political party will remain silent about these flagrant abuses of power."
Later, Rep. Alma Hernández, D-Tucson, tweeted that she’d woken up to “sad” pictures and videos of police brutality protests, both in Arizona and throughout the country.
She said she was still asking herself where state Department of Public Safety troopers and officers from other law enforcement agencies were "when the white #Patriots were storming our capitol grounds with guns harassing (people)” when Gov. Doug Ducey’s stay-at-home order was in effect.
The day before, Hernández had tweeted a plea for people to “stop telling people of color how to feel about failed leadership and responses to the murders of black men and women.”
"Stop telling those of us who have been brutally attacked or unjustly arrested by police how to feel,” she wrote. "You don’t get it. You never will. Period.”
Rep. Lorenzo Sierra, D-Cashion, said he wept "for George Floyd’s murder” and "for his family's loss.”
"I weep for the violence gripping Minneapolis, our country, and the hearts of some within our own community,” he wrote. "I’m enraged by the systemic racism that continually fuels the senseless loss of life. And I’m more committed than ever to doing whatever I can, for as long as I can, to bring about a society where every person is treated as one created in the image and likeness of God, worthy of infinite dignity and respect."
Rep. Raquel Terán, D-Phoenix, similarly argued that respecting Floyd’s memory "means fighting for justice for him and to end systemic racism that kills people of color.”
Rep. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, described the actions of Minneapolis police as an “indefensible use of force.”
"This should never, ever happen, anywhere,” she wrote on Twitter.
After Minnesota authorities announced the arrest of former police officer Derek Chauvin late Friday morning, Rep. Daniel Hernández, D-Tucson, tweeted: “Finally."
"It’s unconscionable that it took this long for this to happen,” he wrote. "Do better, Minnesota."
Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Ariz., tweeted Thursday, before the protest in Phoenix, that "we have an urgent, moral imperative ... to do more to course correct out nation's long history of racial violence."
"In just the past few weeks, we’ve witnessed diverse but telling acts of profound racism in America. The advent of technology and a camera in everyone’s hand continue to bring to light the pain and terror black communities have experienced for generations," he said.
Stanton also signed on to a letter with other members of the House Judiciary Committee asking the Department of Justice to open an investigation into the murder of Floyd and two other black people recently killed.
Republican Reps. Andy Biggs and Debbie Lesko, who also are members of the Judiciary Committee, have been silent on Floyd's death.
Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., said in an interview Friday that the slaying should prompt Congress to pass legislation to require federal investigation of deaths involving police officers.
“The type of choke that was used on Mr. Floyd was a blood choke. You have to be very careful about how to use it,” said Gallego, a former Marine. “He’s already handcuffed. There’s no reason to do this. That is straight-up murder. We’re lucky we caught it on camera.
“What matters is we’re catching the ones we don’t catch on camera. Time and time again there’s a cozy relationship between the police officers, the police union and the district attorney. We need to take the district attorneys out of it, and we need to bring in federal prosecutors” for police-involved shootings and civilian deaths.
In a statement Friday, Rep. Rajul Grijalva, D-Ariz., called Floyd's death "an act of murder, plain and simple."
Grijalva said the continued "extreme use of force" by the Minneapolis Police Department has "thrust the city into chaos."
"The dousing of those protesting the killing of an unarmed black man by the police in tear gas remains in stark contrast to how police departments across the country have treated armed protesters storming state capitols over stay-at-home orders," he said.
Grijalva said being a person of color in America "exposes you to unnecessary violence that is often met with impunity when perpetrated by those in power."
“George Floyd, and all the other black and brown men and women needlessly murdered by state forces in cold blood, deserve justice. I’m calling for immediate charges to be filed and join House Judiciary Committee colleagues in urging DOJ to investigate patterns of racially motivated police misconduct," he said.
Rep. Ann Krikpatrick, D-Ariz., posted on Twitter, "George Floyd deserves justice. #BlackLivesMatter," on Friday morning, along with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr., that reads in part, "A riot is the language of the unheard."
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., said in a statement Friday, "George Floyd should still be alive today.
"The video of Mr. Floyd's death shows probable cause for an arrest of the officer involved. I support the ongoing investigations and hope justice will be done, because bad police officers make it harder for good police officers to do their jobs safely," she said.
Sinema's brother is a police officer in Tucson.
"Too many Americans fear that what happened to George Floyd could happen to them — and all Americans have the right to protest and should refrain from violence while doing so. Neither discrimination, nor violence, have any place in our society," she said.
Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., called Floyd's "tragic and callous" death "unacceptable and deeply troubling."
"Those protesting in cities across the nation have every right to do so, but looting, violence and chaos have no place in our communities or on our streets. Together is the only way our nation will overcome the many struggles we face today," she said.