Phoenix Budget Passed Despite Protest of Police Stop of Family | Phoenix New Times

Phoenix Council Passes Budget Despite Protests of Police's Stop of Family

Four hours of public comment.
Dravon Ames, family, and supporters address the Phoenix City Council on June 19, 2019.
Dravon Ames, family, and supporters address the Phoenix City Council on June 19, 2019. PHX TV
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The fallout continued on Wednesday from the shocking encounter caught on video between Phoenix police officers and a black family accused of shoplifting from a dollar store.

Despite four hours of public criticism over an increase in funding for police, the Phoenix City Council voted 7-to-2 to pass an operating budget for the fiscal year. The budget gives  $721 million to the police department, an increase of almost 5 percent over last year.

Only council members Sal DiCiccio and Jim Waring, both fiscal conservatives, voted against the budget.

Newly elected council member Carlos Garcia, wearing a T-shirt that read "End Police Brutality," voted for the budget, but only after Mayor Kate Gallego agreed to call a special meeting to discuss a potential ad hoc committee to put into place previous recommendations to improve police accountability.

The vote followed dozens of speakers who sharply criticized council members, Mayor Gallego, and Police Chief Jeri Williams over a perceived lack of concern for stopping police brutality and improving community relations with local law enforcement.

Before the meeting, activists demanded that the police department fire Christopher Meyer and other officers involved in the brutal traffic stop of 22-year-old Dravon Ames and his pregnant fiancée, 24-year-old Iesha Harper after their 4-year-old daughter walked out of a dollar store with a doll. Public commenters also called for the firing of Chief Williams and the official who has the power to do that, City Manager Ed Zuercher.

A cell phone video of the May 27 incident that went viral appears to show officers pointing their guns at the family, threatening to shoot them, roughly detaining Ames, and ripping Harper's 1-year-old daughter out of her arms.

Ames — surrounded at the council meeting by family, supporters, and the controversial civil rights activist Reverend Jarrett Maupin — reiterated an earlier call for the firing of the officers.

"It's clear as day that the officers are wrong. It's sick that they're still behind desk duty," Ames said. "They are wrong. Everyone in America sees it."

Activists who spoke against the budget voiced frustration over what they view as a history of the council paying lip service to police reform without making substantive improvements.

"There have been ad hoc committees. There have been reports. There has 10 years of recommendations, and we still have not had action on this," said Viri Hernandez, director of the activist group Poder in Action.

For instance, in 2015 the council convened a committee to give recommendations to improve the department. Many of those recommendations were implemented. But the heaviest lift, a civilian board to review complaints against officers, was tabled for further discussion in 2016.

Last year, the council approved a study to determine the causes for the Phoenix Police Department's remarkably high rate of shootings in 2018. That report was short on answers.

Garcia's proposed committee would review those previous studies and work toward enacting stalled recommendations, including a civilian review board. "I think we've lacked the will to actually follow through and implement these things," he said.

Other critics on Wednesday said money budgeted for the police department could be better spent.

Erica Reynolds said she had an experience in which officers performed an unwarranted cavity search on her. She criticized the department's decision to purchase a $95,000 Long Range Acoustic Device, known colloquially as a "sound cannon" capable of producing ear-shattering noises.

Hours of order in the council chambers were briefly interrupted after DiCiccio criticized protesters for "name-calling," including statements calling police officers "murderers."

"I want the media to know not everybody in the city believes this crap," DiCiccio said, a statement that was met with a chorus of boos and jeers. Mayor Gallego attempted, to no avail, to interject. "Please be respectful," she said.

Several speakers made a point of once again calling police officers who have killed people "murderers" after DiCiccio's comment.

Some speakers recounted their own traumatic experiences with police.

Dr. Kendra Nelson said that, like Ames and Harper, she and her husband were pulled over and held at gunpoint when she was pregnant. Nelson said the incident happened over a stolen license plate she didn't know was stolen.

Among the most emotional moments of the meeting were those that involved children who addressed the council.

An 11-year-old African American boy with the last name Alexander told the council that he puts his hands in his pockets out of fear when he sees the police.

"It's ridiculous," he said.
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