Saturday, January 16, 2010 at 7:39 p.m.
California videographer Naui's footage from the pepper spray incident...the title and content is Naui's alone...
I am so disgusted by today's events at the big anti-Arpaio march to Joe's jails that I hardly know where to begin. The saddest part of it is that a mostly-peaceful demonstration of over 10,000 persons, which ended with a concert by Little Joe y La Familia and inspiring oratory from UFW legend Dolores Huerta, Zack de la Rocha and others, was marred by an apparent conflict between the Phoenix Police Department and those they describe as anarchists protesting alongside the other pro-immigration demonstrators.
The march was so large -- organizers say 20,000 and even the cops I've spoken with agree that it was more than 10K strong -- that the seriousness of events on the tail end of the march rounding 35th Avenue and Durango were not apparent to me until after the rally, when the end of the procession was completed. That's when numerous individuals showed me photos and video footage of children and ordinary people suffering from the effects of pepper spray administered by City of Phoenix gendarmes.
Many of the witnesses agree on a few key facts: That a female officer on horseback walked her horse into the crowd at one point; that the horse became agitated; that the female officer sprayed pepper spray into the crowd; and that scores of people, including women and children were overtaken by the fumes.
Add to that the ongoing antagonism of Phoenix anarchists towards the police in general, and the claim of the police that tensions between black clad anarchists and the cops began earlier in the march, at 35th Avenue and Van Buren. Police spokesperson Andy Hill said that there, traffic cones were thrown at a police officer. Sgt. Brian Murray, of the department's Community Response Bureau, said that one of the anarchists hit a Phoenix officer with a can of rocks, but no one was arrested at that point.
According to the info he received from officers on the scene, Hill said the female officer on horseback was assaulted by a woman on foot with a flagpole, and it escalated from there. None of the witnesses I spoke with actually witnessed the officer being assaulted, but they did see her discharge pepper spray into the crowd.
In total, five demonstrators were arrested, two white females and three white males, on charges ranging from aggravated assault to disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
School counselor Laura Ilardo was near the incident, and described what she saw.
"She basically kind of walked the horse into the crowd," said Ilardo of the Phoenix cop, "into the group wearing black. Then all of a sudden the horse started to buck back and forth. People started trying to move away...the next thing I saw, she was pulling out the pepper spray. There was this giant stream...It covered the whole area, and everyone started running."
Ilardo described a little girl, about a year old, who had been hit with the pepper spray. And she was not the only child hurt. Video from California activist/videographer Naui shows a little boy crying because the pepper spray is burning his eyes.
Ilardo herself said she felt the pepper spray in her eyes, that it made her cough, and that she had trouble breathing as a result. Guadalupe activist William Robles was also affected by the spray. He was bringing up the end of the march, drumming on a ceremonial drum. He said he felt like his eyes were on fire, his face inflamed.
A protester who gave his name as Sage, said he too was hit by the pepper spray.
"She pulled out a long can," Sage said of the officer on horseback, "and sprayed out some dark fog stuff into the crowd near the people in black, I think the anarchists. Everyone started running back, and I saw a lot of little kids sprayed and sick and crying. Children and mothers who got sprayed.
"I didn't see what led to it," Sage told me. "I just saw it from a far, from about 50 feet away. It got into my lungs, so I held back a little while... saw the cops quarantine like half of the march. Till they finally let it go. And then it ended."
Artist/activist Francisco Garcia told me that the pepper spray in his lungs reminded him of the symptoms of bronchitis, which he sometimes suffers from.
At the protest, civil rights activist Salvador Reza declined comment until he had more information. Chris Newman, a lawyer for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, one of the sponsors of the march, issued the following statement:
"The news today is that 20,000 people marched peacefully in the face of Arpaio's terror to say 'enough' and to call upon the Obama administration to intervene and stop the replication of Arizona's failed policies. We ask for a full investigation into the incident, and we hope everyone's rights are respected in the process."
PPD spokesman Hill released the names of those arrested, with a statement below. Tomorrow, I'll write a piece about the real message of the march and some of my interviews with Dolores Huerta and others. I am left not knowing who to blame. The only thing I know for sure is that somewhere -- to borrow a line from Don McLean's song American Pie -- Sheriff Joe Arpaio is laughing with delight.
Statement from Phoenix Police Sgt. Andy Hill:
Suspects arrested and booked into jail:
Daniels, Sarah Grace W/F 23 years old: Booked for Agg Assault on Police P623076
Henry, Jeremiah M W/M 18 years old: Booked for Agg Assault on Police P623071
Klasek, Garyn W/M 30 years old: Booked for Agg Assault on Police & Disorderly Conduct P623074
Brock, Claire E W/F 23 years old; booked for Resisting Arrest & Disorderly Conduct P623069
Emadi, Issa A W/M 26 years old; booked for Agg Assault on Police P623068
During the demonstraton this afternoon, I am told by our scene supervisors that a group of demonstrators, called "Anarchists", purposefully disrupted the demonstration by assaulting several police officers and a police horse.
About 45 minutes prior to this incident these demonstrators caused a separate incident at 35th Avenue and Van Buren by throwing traffic cones at a police officer. No arrests were made in that incident.
Then, at about 1:30PM near 31st Avenue and Durango, the second incident occurred when a police sergeant was assaulted by a suspect who struck him on the head and chest with a flagpole.
A police mounted unit officer on horseback was assaulted while on her horse as her horse was mobbed, punched and pushed.
And two other police officers were assaulted by suspects who threw water bottles (possibly containing rocks) at them. The bottles missed.
While the mounted officer was being assaulted, that officer deployed pepper spray to stop the mob and those in the crowd committing the assaults. Most regrettably, a nearby 2 year old child was hit by some of the pepper spray. The Phoenix Fire Department was called to treat the young child. I am told she was released and was expected to be okay. No one else was seriously injured or hospitalized.
The march was allowed to continue.