That is the question many in Phoenix and certainly those of us nationwide are grappling with in the wake of Tuesday’s events. What had been a huge, peaceful, and remarkably diverse protest the night of the president’s relentless and unapologetic bigotry and divisiveness devolved into a hail of rubber bullets and tear gas.
UnidosUS abhors and rejects violence no matter who perpetrates it. We ardently believe in people’s right to protest and recognize the importance of civil disobedience. It appears from the extensive footage we have seen and reports we have received from those who were on the ground, there was an overreaction on the part of the Phoenix Police Department. The sight of many, including children and the elderly, some in wheelchairs, in pain from being teargassed attest to that. Subsequently, UnidosUS unequivocally supports calls for a thorough and independent investigation into what in fact transpired outside the Phoenix Convention Center this week, who is responsible, and who should be held accountable.
This is especially troubling on the heels of Charlottesville where concerns have been raised about the effects of a police underreaction on that tragic event. Charlottesville and Phoenix are just the beginning of what is likely to be years of large-scale protests. We are a starkly divided nation with a president who seems to be doing his utmost to keep it that way. Make no mistake—his holding of a campaign rally in Phoenix just a week after Charlottesville in which he again demonized everyone but his supporters and all but proclaimed that he was pardoning the bigoted and widely reviled Sheriff Joe Arpaio was an act of provocation.
Those of us who condemn hate, division, and bigotry, and work to ensure equal treatment and justice for all, will continue to protest a president whose views and actions are so antithetical to what this country should and does stand for. UnidosUS will continue to speak out, but we will also insist that protests are peaceful, respectful, and foster the dignity shown by the vast majority of protesters in Charlottesville and Phoenix.
So the larger question for us is, how do we protect this peaceful dissent? We know that police work is important, difficult and dangerous, but we also know that inappropriate reactions are often the result of a lack of training. We need to ensure that police get the best training possible along with the resources they need to prevent mayhem at future demonstrations. We should make sure that police departments with experience and that have developed the proper protocols in such situations provide support and guidance to police departments in areas that do not.
UnidosUS strongly believes that this is a small but critical step we need to take, so that we can guarantee both the right to dissent and the safety of protestors and law enforcement alike. At the same time, in order to fully understand what transpired in Phoenix, and ensure that the law guides and protects everyone’s right to voice their views, we fully support calls for an independent investigation.