President Donald Trump's return to Phoenix today is expected to draw a crowd of roughly 20,000, protests, and a large police presence. It's his second time back in the Valley since the August 2017 visit that ended with tear gas, pepper bullets, a hefty price tag for the city, and ongoing lawsuits against the Phoenix Police Department.
Doors for the rally open at 3 p.m. at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum near McDowell Road and 19th Avenue; the event begins at 7 p.m. Trump supporters were camped outside the coliseum on Tuesday night — a tweet from Arizona State University's college Republicans group claims about 100 people were camping out for the event. Protests are slated to start at 4:30 p.m. and will take place throughout the evening, with the north side of Encanto Boulevard between 17th and 19th avenues blocked off for protesters.
Since the event is being held at the State Fair Grounds, the Arizona Department of Public Safety will be working with the United States Secret Service to enforce security at the rally. But Phoenix police will be working in the areas surrounding the coliseum.
Some of us are already here waiting for the President's Phoenix Rally tomorrow night. Don't underestimate the dedication of Trump supporters. Over 100 strong! pic.twitter.com/jf9L3GEB1X— College Republicans United (@ASU_CRU) February 19, 2020
A protest organized by Puente Human Rights Movement is slated to begin at 4:30 p.m. Protesters will march from Puente Arizona's headquarters near Adams Street and North 20th Avenue to the coliseum, a little over a mile-and-a-half walk. Puente is among the handful of groups suing the city of Phoenix over the Phoenix Police Department's handling of the 2017 Trump protests.
In their class action lawsuit filed September 2018, the ACLU of Arizona, Puente, and Poder in Action allege that police used excessive force to disperse people by firing hundreds of projectiles indiscriminately into the crowd without warning.
While the ACLU's lawsuit asserts that police never warned protesters before firing tear gas into the crowd, Phoenix police maintain that they repeatedly warned protesters to stop throwing things and later declared the assembly unlawful, ordering the crowd to disperse.
Outcry over the department's handling of the protest prompted Phoenix to launch an independent review of the incident. The review concluded that Phoenix police could have done a better job communicating with protesters before and during the event, particularly when providing clear, audible, and consistent directions to the crowd.
In response, the police department seems to be taking a few steps to ensure things go differently this time around.
Phoenix police sought to acquire powerful Long Range Acoustic Devices capable of reaching 154 decibels to communicate with large crowds. Humans begin experiencing discomfort at 110 decibels and acute hearing loss can occur from exposure to noises above 140 decibels.
Long Range Acoustic Devices have been weaponized by police departments in the past. The Phoenix City Council approved the department's request to purchase the devices in November 2018 amid promises from police officials that the devices would not be weaponized and would only be used by trained officers to communicate with crowds at decibel levels below 113.
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Phoenix police have also taken steps to warn protesters ahead of time that it's possible police could declare the assembly unlawful, and that at that point, anyone remaining in the area will be subject to arrest. Four people were arrested after violence broke out at the Trump rally in 2017.
What began as a peaceful protest ultimately escalated when a handful of protesters threw water bottles and attempted to topple a barricade separating rival demonstrators. Phoenix police responded by firing nearly 500 rounds of pepper spray balls into the crowd, along with 16 canisters of tear gas, and 71 rounds of less-than-lethal weapons like beanbags, flash-bang grenades, and smoke bombs.
One protester, Josh Cobin, kicked a can of tear gas away from the crowd and back toward police. Police responded by shooting Cobin in the groin with a rubber bullet (and later mocking him online and celebrating the officer who shot him). Cobin is now suing the city of Phoenix for excessive force and cruel and unusual punishment.