Opinion: Protest In Phoenix and How Police Action Further Radicalized at Least One Protester
I arrived downtown at 1pm, even though the demonstrations were not supposed to start until 6. Primarily because I knew Trump’s supporters had been showing up since 6am. Lining up to get in and NOT seeing any one with opposing views. I felt like we had to be visible… so I showed up with my 3’x4’ sign and walked around half the convention center perimeter.
I settled in across the street from one of the two lines of supporters. An older gentleman began screaming obscenities and personal insults to the trump supporters. I moved away and took up position on the curb with my sign. Over the course of the next 30 minutes or so, we went from 5 protesters to about 30. And here is where it starts to get interesting….
I estimate there were approximately 600 Trump supporters in the part of the line I could see. A line of police officers on bicycles had formed, about 4 feet back from the curb on OUR side of the street, facing us. All THIRTY of us scary folk. In the next few minutes the ugliness started. Using a loud speaker, a portion of the trump supporters started screaming “KKK USA, KKK USA” at us. To be fair, a group right next to them in line started chanting “Let’s all get along”.
Supporters started coming across the street towards us in pairs. They yelled profanities, encroached in protesters’ personal space, and engaged in heated exchange of words. I turned looking for the line of police that HAD been between us and them, and they had vanished!
I’ll preface this by saying that the first Trump supporters who approached me was a very polite, soft spoken young man who asked questions, seemed surprised by some things I had to say, then shook my hand and told me to stay safe. Then came the “bodyguards” who traveled to every alt-right demonstration in the country including Charlottesville, Boston, Dallas and Laguna Beach most recently.
For more than an hour these alt-right agitators tried to start altercations with protesters. Only when the protesters numbered about 100 did the police came in and put up barricades on the other side of the street. They did not ask the the scattered alt-righters who went around the barricade to hurl insults at us to move.
Where were the police when we were outnumbered? When they were present at all, they formed a line, facing us. They were not there to protect our free speech rights, they were protecting agitating, armed Trump supporters from peaceful protesters. Several of the alt-righters who were there in line early had firearms on their hips. Obviously they were never planning on going inside the convention center. One had an AR-15 cradled in his arms.
At around 4pm, the police forced about 200 of us to move to another street. This street was set up with police line barricades on both sides. I moved over to stand at the very edge of the corner we were supposed to be on. There was a man leaning up against the stoplight right next to me. He was middle age, quite large and probably 6’2. I’m short enough I came up to his armpit. As the protesters were filing past him he muttered, just loud enough for the woman passing directly in front of him to hear, “f***ing dyke commie, I’ll f**ck you up”. I turned to him and said “really? Profanities? Why don’t you go back to the other side of the street where you belong?” That’s all I said.
I then became the target of his vitriol. Calling me a commie faggot and threatening to f**k me up. All of this said just loud enough so people within 5 feet of us were the only ones who could hear. Then he started in on a middle-age woman walking past with a cane and began fat bashing her. I stepped between him and the woman chanting Dump Trump to drown him out. The next thing I know he slammed his rather substantial belly into my back pushing me forward into the line of protestors passing by. Stepping back into my original position, I responded by loudly telling him to keep his hands off me. He continued to hurl profanities at me and threatening to ‘f**k me up”.
A police woman was informed of what was going on and she came over to intervene. I explained what he was doing and what he was threatening. And that HE was on OUR side of the barrier, expecting her to tell him to go back to his side of the street. I was mistaken. I was told to keep moving. That I could not stand there any more or I risked arrest. He did not utter a word in her presence and she IGNORED him! I vocalized my dismay at her singling ME out and not him, but I did as I was instructed.
My mind was reeling at this point. I couldn’t process. All of these examples of the police treating US as the problem. And yet, to this point, every aggressive act; every instance of baiting and attempting to instigate physical violence, had come from Trump supporters. I felt incredibly alone as I stood against the barricade holding my sign, watching the police suit up in riot gear; seeing more Trump supporters take up position on the corner across the street cradling AK-47s and AR-15s in their arms. Equally unsettling was watching armed protesters on our side gather in response to this new threat.
At this point armed and armored riot police started lining up facing us in the street behind the barriers. The Trump supporters were streaming in to the Convention Center. Some of them shouting obscenities, some waving and blowing kisses. It was the same thing on our side. There were protesters shouting personal insults, but most of us were on point and restrained. I was concerned about what the environment would be once Trump got done riling up the crowd with his campaign speech. Word had already spread that Trump was saying there were only a few protesters outside. No surprise there. Even though the one police officer who came over to talk to us told us that they were told the crowd numbered 20,000-25,000. I was honestly amazed at those figures.
Apparently enjoying the adoration of the crowd, Trump spoke for almost 90 minutes. During which time it appeared as though half of the protesters left. At 8:15pm, a friend who relied on me for a ride, said they needed to leave, so we walked back towards where my car was parked. We were perhaps half a block away, and we could see that the rally was letting out as Trump supporters streamed across the elevated walkway between the two convention center buildings. I heard the police start telling our group that we had to disperse. Not unexpected considering their behavior all day. Even though, to that point, there was NO violence by protestors. Expecting it did not make me any less angry and disappointed that OUR right to assemble was being cut short in order to protect those who came to support Trump; that came to support bigotry, hatred and division.
We had a right to be there. We were contained on ONE side of the building. Had the police merely been concerned with the mingling of the two groups, they could have released the rally crowd on the exact opposite side which was a full block away. WE were contained behind dump trucks, concrete barriers, barricades and the aforementioned fully suited riot police.
We were 2 blocks away when the first shots and pepper bombs were fired. No one will ever really know whether or not one of the protesters threw empty water bottles or a rock. Considering the actions of the police all day, I don’t think it would have mattered. I watched the videos of the police CONTINUING to shoot rubber bullets, use long range pepper spray and tear gas bombs to push the crowd almost TWO FULL blocks back from the barricades. For what purpose? Was it to get the protesters out of sight of the Trump supporters? Or perhaps Trump himself? What I do know is that they were continuing to gas people who were mostly running, or trying to obtain/provide physical assistance to those who had been gassed or shot.
To them, we were the enemy.
The behavior of the police yesterday changed me. I guess you might say they radicalized me by showing me that they will not stand to protect people equally. I can say one thing definitively, as long as the police only serve and protect one side, those of us who CAN must take on the role of serving and protecting those who stand with us; we must make sure that those among us, those differently abled, old, young, scared, or just in need of seeing a supportive friendly face, are safely away from harm. Until we enjoy equal protection BY the law, NOTHING will cause me to leave early again.
-Toby (Wolf) Schneiter