A Phoenix City Council was extended by five hours of pubic comment from residents upset about excessive police force.
A Phoenix City Council was extended by five hours of pubic comment from residents upset about excessive police force.
Lindsay Moore

How Phoenix Residents Took Over a City Council Meeting and Won

Phoenix residents flipped the script on the City Council Wednesday night when they took control of the meeting. Fueled by a mix of endurance, mob rule, and true democracy, the residents took center stage for five hours of public comment, denouncing the Phoenix police's use of pepper balls and flash bombs after President Donald Trump's rally at the convention center last week.

City Council procedures were quickly derailed when audience members began speaking about the proposed independent investigation into excessive force by Phoenix police at the President Donald Trump rally. Mayor Greg Stanton attempted to rein in the crowd and have them wait to address the issue until the designated time.

They were met with a loud "object" from the crowd and all hell broke loose.

Phoenix residents of all ages, ethnicities, and abilities stormed the podium to speak. They created a united front and repeated each sentence after every speaker, creating a deafening boom throughout the room.

• "That investigation is a fraud." That investigation is a fraud.
• "The public will not be told what to say." The public will not be told what to say.
• "We will continue to share our testimonies." We will continue to share our testimonies.

The chants became so boisterous that the city's sound technician could not keep the microphone feedback levels in check.

That upset the audience and prompted chants "turn the mic on" and "mic check," to which the technician shrugged his shoulders and continued to adjust the levels.

Stanton and Vice Mayor Laura Pastor tried to regain control and motioned to move the item regarding the rally up on the agenda.

Meanwhile, in the back of the room, state Representative Kelly Townsend, a Mesa Republican, was making her way to the front trying to get a message to Mayor Stanton. She knew from experience that the council would lose control of the meeting if they didn't take a break to let the crowd calm down.

She attempted to pass a message to the mayor but Stanton's Chief of Staff Seth Scott said he never received it or spoke with Townsend at the meeting.

Tensions continued to build as Stanton picked up the gavel, but let it rest in his hand while he listened to several more speakers.

Still, the room got louder and the crowd diverted further from protocol.

Finally, the council gaveled for recess.

The crowd erupted. They screamed, "You're a chicken" and chanted "Shame on you" as the mayor and other council members stepped away from their desks and out of sight.

Despite the council members' absence, the crowd continued to talk about the sting of tear gas in their eyes and the adrenaline rush of running away from the clouds of smoke. Many described being with elderly or disabled residents who were peacefully protesting and who were unable to get to safety on their own when pepper balls were dispersed by the Phoenix police.

After returning from recess, Stanton and Pastor suggested testimonies be given in order of the comment cards that were filled out prior to the meeting.

This created little to no order, and residents continued to run the show.

At the back of the line, Townsend held a hard copy of the speech she was prepared to give about her experience at the Trump rally. She knew it wasn't going to go over well with the crowd, but she felt compelled to say it — she was proud of the Phoenix police.

"When we got home, it was apparent that we didn’t turn into Charlottesville," she said to New Times. "I was proud of our state that we didn’t dissolve into mayhem. It could have gotten so much worse."

At the podium, residents criticized the proposed investigation, calling it a sham because of Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams' ties with the third-party company that she used during her time as the police chief in Oxnard, California.

Some residents suggested that a public review should happen instead, with Phoenix residents leading the investigation.

Townsend listened.

"I wanted to believe them," she said. "It was hard to take seriously some of the things that were said because of the nature of the group. It was hard to weed out what was hyperbole, what was emotion, and what was fact."

She agreed that an independent review costing $45,000 was the wrong solution and an expensive one at that. The police response wasn't perfect, but citizens storming the meeting wasn't either, Townsend said.

Townsend started reworking her speech in her head. She was going to have to go off the cuff.

"I kind of have a different perspective that you all might expect from me," she said as she took the podium.

She didn't make it very far into her speech when residents behind her began interrupting with boos. Despite the crowd's negativity, Townsend repeated over and over, "I agree with you."

She told them she didn't want an independent review, she didn't want to spend $45,000 of taxpayer money, and no, she didn't want any Nazis on the review board.

Residents continued to argue that the investigation wouldn't hold the officers accountable because Stanton had already made up his mind and supported the police effort during his press conference during the night of the rally.

The audience berated the mayor directly and demanded he make eye contact with them while they spoke.

After five hours of public comment, a white flag was raised. In an effort to reach mutual agreement, the council dropped the proposed investigation without a proper vote.

And people went home at least feeling that their voices had been heard.

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