With Phoenix police looking on, Hispanic community representatives gathered in Caesar Chavez Plaza downtown this morning to show their support for City Councilman Michael Johnson and to slam the Phoenix Police Department's South Mountain Precinct for continued reports of abuse of force.
Johnson, at the center of an abuse-of-force incident in which a young Phoenix police officer's accused of assaulting him, was not in attendance, but about 20 members of different Hispanic-advocacy groups called for cooperation between the black and Hispanic communities to reform the PPD in the wake of the alleged smackdown.
Phoenix attorney Danny Ortega insists that there is a lack of trust between the two communities and the police, which has caused citizens not to file police reports out of fear of harassment. He says minorities have feared Phoenix cops for years.
Because the latest abuse of force claim happens to come from a Phoenix city councilman, Ortega says the issue is finally getting attention.
"This is what we've been complaining about for a long, long time," Ortega says of minority citizens. "This is nothing new to us -- this is business as usual."
Ortega is, of course, referring to the Johnson incident, where the councilman was thrown to the ground and handcuffed as, he contends, he was only trying to help a friend whose house was on fire.
At the event, Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox says she'd heard about cop's claim that Johnson started the fracas but isn't buyin' it.
"[Johnson] is the most decent person I know," Wilcox says. "It would be very hard for any of us to believe that Michael Johnson would assault a police officer."
Always a staunch defender of the PPD as a retired 20-year police veteran, Johnson is not known for standing up for Latinos who have claimed police harrassment over the years. Johnson has been publicly silent on Latinos' claims of racial profiling during sweeps by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's forces, though he is the only black City Council member in Phoenix.
Ortega says members of the Hispanic and black communities must force the city to set up a task force to examine procedures at the PPD's South Mountain Precinct, where he says many abuses occur on a regular basis. It will be interesting to see whether Johnson, who wants a federal civil rights investigation of the incident between him and Authement, will stick his neck out to help make this happen.
Johnson's office tells New Times the councilman has "no comment" on the assault claim by the young cop or on comments made by the Hispanic leaders.
Doesn't sound like solidarity to us.
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Ortega wants the task force to look at issues such as how officers in the precinct are trained in comparison to other precincts, how many rookie officers are assigned to South Mountain compared to other precincts, and how many abuse-of-force complaints the precinct gets.
The task force, Ortega says, should be comprised of more community members than police officers to come to the most accurate conclusion.
Calls to Phoenix police spokesman Trent Crump were not immediately returned.