Why doesn't it surprise me that nativist stalwart Lynne Stevens, known also by her YouTube handle "Jackie40D," recently pulled her ever-present sidearm while protesting day laborers at a Walmart in Central Phoenix?
Two reasons: Stevens' several violent statements in the past toward Mexicans and others, and a recent escalation of tensions between activists — on both sides of the immigration debate — at the 37th Street and Thomas Road store.
There, day laborers (many of Mexican descent and some undoubtedly undocumented) gather daily from sunrise to sunset, hustling to snag work from those seeking to give it to them. Unlike the Home Depot store next door, Walmart does not trespass the dozens of men who wait for a chance at a day of pay.
Though nativists have staked out a section of sidewalk on Thomas Road in front of Walmart every Saturday for several weeks, their numbers have dwindled to a few hardliners, including Stevens, James Markins (known as "Angry Jim" by anti-nativist forces), and a wheelchair-bound Native American known only as Nelson.
According to Sergeant Brian Murray of the Phoenix Police Department's Community Relations Bureau (which keeps the peace at Phoenix demonstrations), the commander of the area precinct once stationed cops nearby, but no longer.
"The precinct had officers out there dedicated to the day-laborer issue," Murray told me. "But they've been reassigned and are now employed in a different capacity in the precinct."
Normally, this might seem an effective use of manpower considering the puny numbers of nativists clinging to protest signs that read "Way To Go Sheriff Joe," "It's Dangerous to Hire Day Laborers" or repeating bigoted shibboleths about Mexicans and disease.
But the incident with Stevens on the morning of Saturday, January 9, has upped the ante. Stevens, a nativist regular who has worn her sidearm to protests — even protests where Latino children were present — and has bragged to me about hunting illegal aliens near the border, either pulled her sidearm in self-defense or overreacted to an argument, depending on whom you ask.
According to the Phoenix Police Department, which responded with several patrol cars after it was phoned by Walmart security about 10:30 a.m., Stevens did not point her gun at anyone, but unholstered it when someone supposedly threw a rock at her. Stevens was not taken into custody because the cops didn't have any victims willing to come forward.
"No one came forward and said, 'She pointed that gun at me,'" said James Holmes, a PPD spokesman. "She had the weapon, she felt threatened, she pulled the weapon out, she pointed it in the air, and she told the crowd to stop. Then she pointed it toward the ground."
Holmes said Stevens claimed she had been pelted with rocks by the laborers and that they then advanced on her, forcing her to draw, as if she were a character in the HBO series Deadwood. When security arrived, she holstered her weapon and waited for the cops, who confiscated it briefly. They then gave it back to her, and she agreed to leave for the day.
Officer Holmes also told me there was one other witness — not a laborer — who corroborated elements of Stevens' story.
The day laborers I talked to the day after the incident sang a different tune. Though no one wanted to give a name, one man, whom I'll call Marcos, said Stevens pulled her gun after a verbal altercation with a motorist entering the Walmart lot from Thomas.
"[The driver] parked at the entrance and got out," Marcos said, through an interpreter. "The guy was with his family. He got out and started arguing [with Stevens]. They were talking back to each other. And that's when she pulled out the gun. We got close to see what was going on, and that's when she pointed the gun at us."
This motorist amscrayed after Stevens flashed the gun, according to the day laborer.
Marcos, who's been going to Walmart for the past four years to find work, said he didn't see anyone throwing stones at Stevens. He said jobs had become increasingly scarce over the past year and he'd been able to score only two, doing general cleanup work, over the past month.
He and the other jornaleros ignore Stevens and the others, he said, because the laborers' focus is on getting work from passing motorists.
"They just come to create problems," he said of the nativists. "We want to work, so we don't cause any problems. It's other people who get mad at them."
One witness, who is not a laborer, told me she saw the initial confrontation between the driver of an SUV and Stevens. She said she did not see anyone throwing rocks, and the only time she saw a gun in Stevens' hand was when Stevens was pointing it in the air.