When it comes to orchestrating a civil rights-themed public spectacle in Phoenix, the Reverend Jarrett Maupin cannot be beat.
Billed as a protest of police brutality, the event that took place Friday at 24th Street and Camelback Road in the city's tony Biltmore area lacked the spontaneity, the fear and the pepper spray of a demonstration last week in downtown Phoenix. That much-longer July 8 demonstration turned ugly when a crowd of protesters headed for the I-10 freeway, only to be stopped by Phoenix cops in riot gear.
By contrast, Friday's demonstration, which came one week after that "Rally for Justice," also led by Maupin, gave the horde of press on hand a protest that sometimes seemed as choreographed as a Cirque de Soleil production.
The demonstration began at 8 pm and was over by 9 pm, with Maupin leading a couple hundred protesters across the south side of the major intersection, blocking traffic for several boisterous minutes, until Maupin handed off a giant copy of his 12-point plan for police reform to Phoenix Police Chief Joe Yahner, after it had been signed by many of those present.
At the top of the list of a dozen demands "for healing, reconciliation and peace," is one insisting that the City of Phoenix equip police officers with body cameras "immediately."
In May the city council approved a budget that included $5.4 million for body cameras for rank-and-file police officers over the next several years.
"Is three years too long?" Maupin asked demonstrators of the body cameras at the start of the protest, his plus-size Magna Carta for cop reform behind him.
"Yes!" the crowd cried in response.
Maupin continued, "We want those body cameras now. And stop paying money for the police to be here for protesters ... that's more cameras, that's more cops, that's more community building ... If [Sheriff] Joe Arpaio can get it done, so can the City of Phoenix."
Last year, Arpaio's agency purchased 700 body cameras to be worn by sheriff's deputies, and several hundred were deployed this year. However, that move was the result of a court order in the ongoing civil rights case Melendres v. Arpaio, part of a series of reforms ordered by a federal judge after the MCSO was found guilty of widespread racial profiling of Latinos in 2013.
Maupin's reform agenda includes having investigations of controversial police shootings done by other agencies and mandated drug screening for cops after every such shooting. But instead of ticking these items off one by one, Maupin jumped to number 12.
"The last one on the list is the diversity and sensitivity training that the city of Phoenix has already appropriated the money for," Maupin told the crowd. "We want that sensitivity and diversity training, and we want it now."
Maupin also discussed another interesting proposal: having the city post the names of police officers on the so-called Brady List — a database of officers in Maricopa County who have engaged in behavior that must be disclosed to defense counsel before a trial — to the city of Phoenix's website.
The Brady List is, in fact, a public record, which New Times obtained and published in 2010, much to the chagrin of the local cop union, the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, whose leadership's heads would explode if Phoenix were to follow Maupin's suggestion regarding the law-enforcement database.
Saying he and his fellow demonstrators were not anti-police, but "anti-police brutality," Maupin then invited all present to sign his jumbo list of suggestions. This was made difficult for demonstrators by the thick cordon of reporters and news cameras surrounding him.
On a rise behind the civil-rights leader, a white counter-demonstrator carrying a sign that read "police lives matter," began yelling that sentiment over and over, only to be met by a responding chorus of "black lives matter," and the occasional "all lives matter."
Eventually, Maupin, using a megaphone, and accompanied by Francis Garrett, the mother of Michelle Cusseaux, a mentally ill woman gunned down by Phoenix police in 2014, shepherded the crowd across 24th Street, where some sat, some stood, and some lay down, blocking oncoming traffic.
(Garrett has accompanied Maupin during past demonstrations, including a memorable one in 2014, not long after Cusseaux was shot by a Phoenix cop as she held aloft a hammer outside her apartment, when Garrett, Maupin, and others marched Cusseaux's casket down the sidewalks of Phoenix to City Hall to protest the killing. The Phoenix police sergeant who shot Cusseaux later was busted down to officer as discipline for the shooting, which was found by the PPD to be out of policy.)
Despite taunts from counter-demonstrators, the overwhelming police presence — both uniformed and plainclothes — kept any fisticuffs from breaking out. At one point, Maupin laid the 12-point plan down in the middle of the street so others could sign it. Then he and Garrett marched it over to the southeast corner of the intersection, where Yahner accepted Maupin's document and a hug from Garrett.
Following that feel-good moment, which was dutifully recorded by scores of television cameras and cell phones, Maupin led a large mass of the protesters south on 24th Street, away from the intersection. But he had a word of warning for the authorities before he left.
"If the city doesn't abide by these plans, if the city doesn't adopt these, and sit down at the table with us," said Maupin through his megaphone, "then we'll be right back out here, like our mothers and fathers and grandmothers and grandfathers were before us, to demand justice in this city."
That's no empty threat, considering that last week Maupin reportedly led demonstrators toward the I-10 freeway in what he later deemed a ruse, only to have them turned back by cops in riot gear firing pepper-spray balls at them.
Though this Friday's protest was peaceful, the fear of it in the affluent Biltmore area, ringed with shops, theaters, and restaurants, caused some businesses to shutter for the evening. The area is rarely a venue for demonstrations, and caters to a well-heeled clientele.
The crowd was largely African American with a number of whites and a few Latinos mixed in. After Maupin marched away, some remained on the corners of the crossroads, with protesters and counter-protesters facing off, exchanging insults, and occasionally veering into heated discussions of police brutality in Baltimore, Ferguson, and more recent, videotaped shootings of black men by police in Baton Rouge and Minnesota.
"Y'all out here just trying to pour gas on a fire," one demonstrator yelled at counter-protesters, some of whom carried American flags.
One white counter-demonstrator named Mike, who wore the "cut" of a motorcycle club called the Sons of America, told New Times he was present to support law enforcement. He claimed that the demonstrators were being "very disrespectful" to police and were "hypocrites," because one day they may need to call 911 for police help.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
"You don't see other races making big issues [out of police shootings] like they do," Mike explained of the largely black group before him.
"Not all of them," he quickly added, "just the ones that come out here and do this thing."
Additionally, there were some anti-police brutality folks who were dismissive of the hour-long event. One African American woman told New Times as much, as she walked away.
"Five minutes in the street," she harrumphed. "What good is five minutes in the street? Tell me how is that gonna change anything?"