Phoenix police shot protesters with pepper balls and arrested six people downtown on Saturday night.
The 40 to 50 protesters who were demonstrating against the Phoenix Police Department and police brutality were arrested after ignoring an officer's command not to cross Washington Street. Phoenix Police Sergeant Jonathan Howard says the pepper balls were fired after "several members of the group began to throw flag poles that they had been carrying at the officers and interfere with the arrests."
"Officers discharged pepperballs at these suspects to protect the officers, the suspects being arrested, and others in the area, Howard says in a statement. "Those suspects quickly fled the area and were not located."
One protester New Times spoke to disagrees with the cops' version of events.
"The police make it sound as if they were attacked by this mob of people," activist Peggy Plews says. "In fact, what I saw in the video -- and I haven't seen any police evidence to the contrary -- one person threw a flag in the direction of police after [officers] attacked a couple people in the back of the group."
The footage captured by videographer Dennis Gilman shows one flagpole hurled in the officers' direction, and the pepper balls are shot almost immediately after that.
Plews says the pepper balls were shot "into the backs of fleeing people."
"Why would they unleash a volley of pepper balls on people who were running away from them?" she says.
According to Howard, the group had been warned several times before to stay out of roadways.
"The Phoenix Police Department supports and defends peoples' right to free speech and peaceful assembly," Howard says. "Unfortunately, people within the group chose to engage in criminal acts which became a nuisance and hazard to themselves and other residents and people attending downtown events. After multiple warnings and commands to obey the law were disregarded, police were forced to make several arrests to ensure the safety and well being of all people in the downtown area."
Six arrests were made, Howard says.
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The protesters organized under the name of "Wave of Action PHX." Pews tells us most of the people involved originally came together at the Occupy Phoenix protests, which started three years ago.
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