Protesters rally at Phoenix City Council meeting over viral video of police encounter

Protestors gather outside Phoenix City Hall before attending a meeting of the City Council. (Photo by Grayson Schmidt/Cronkite News)

Tsanavi Spoonhunter

This story was written by Tim Poyan of Cronkite News

This story's video report was with Tsanavi Spoonhunter

Video by Meg O'Connor of Cronkite News

Phoenix finds itself in the national spotlight after video surfaces of the latest police brutality case. We have two reports. One from Cronkite News and another from reporter, Tsanavi Spoonhunter, who explains how this issue affects the American Indian community. 

PHOENIX – A viral video of Phoenix police officers’ encounter with a couple and their children over a shoplifting accusation has boiled over in frustration and anger and turned the city into a national focal point on police conduct.

The controversy continued Wednesday as rallies were organized in downtown Phoenix and the City Council prepared to discuss the issue, the day after a community meeting Tuesday night in which the couple in the video and members of the public took the police to task for alleged incidents of violence and harassment.

The May 27 video shows the stop of Dravon Ames, 22, and his pregnant fiancee, Iesha Harper, 24, along with their two daughters, after their 4-year-old daughter allegedly took a doll from a dollar store. In the video, one of the two officers can be seen pointing a gun at Ames and shouting “I’m going to put a cap in your a–.”

Cronkite News will provide updates of stories from community leaders and residents, the rallies and the council meeting.

Activist leader opposes police budget

As the first to address the council, Viri Hernández, 28, director of the activist group Poder in Action, led a call-and-response to oppose a proposed police budget.

Viri Hernández, director of Poder in Action, says the people protesting represent some of the most heavily incarcerated areas parts of Phoenix. (Photo by Tanner Puckett/Cronkite News)

When she asked the crowd whether to go for the budget, some shouted “No!”

“They’re trying to vote on a $721 million budget for the police department,” the Maryvale resident said before the meeting. “This is our tax money that, after everything that has happened, they’re saying they’re still going to give to this department that is abusing, brutalizing, that is assaulting our community.”

Poder in Action demands the council vote against the budget, and it urges council members to “have the courage to demand that these officers be fired,” Hernández said.

Rally as a family affair

Leslie Pico, 32, brought her 9-year-old daughter Elisa to the rally because she believes it’s important for the girl to engage with “real life” issues.

Leslie Pico, 32, and her daughter Elisa, 9, of Phoenix, hold signs outside City Hall. As a “white-passing first-generation Latina,” Pico says, it’s important to volunteer and raise the platform of such organizations as Poder in Action and Black Lives Matter. (Photo by Tanner Puckett/Cronkite News)

“I don’t underestimate my children by any means,” Pico said. “They understood that this was wrong. They don’t need an investigation, they don’t need 30 days.”

Pico was not affiliated with any of the activist groups but said it is important for people to show up and show support for organizations rallying against police violence.

“This sign is 4-years-old and it still hasn’t gotten the job done,” she said, gesturing to a sign reading “Stop police brutality & impunity.”

‘99 percent of trust’

Outside City Hall, Torrence King, 37, of Peoria, said the community and police need to model their behavior after the array of colors in a crayon box.

“If all the colors in the crayon box can get along, then why can’t we?” King said. “There’s too many people losing their lives out here, whether it be law enforcement officers or common citizens. And for us to give out 99 percent of our trust to law enforcement officers and them to give us only 1 percent of their trust, that’s an issue.”

NAACP leader calls for body cameras

Hours before the council meeting, Roy Tatem, president of the East Valley NAACP, said in an interview that Phoenix police are suffering from a culture of racism, brutality and lack of accountability, which he called a “recipe for disaster.”

“There were many stories told last night,” Tatem said of the community meeting at Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church. “Personal stories of people victimized by the Phoenix police.”

He wants Phoenix police to implement body cameras as soon as possible.

“From little kids, we’ve been programmed to trust police officers, public servants as public service,” Tatem said. “Unfortunately, many police officers have not lived up to the standard, especially as we talk about policing black and brown people, and poor people.”

Parris Wallace of Poder in Action explains why her organization opposes budget increases for the Phoenix Police Department. (Photo by Grayson Schmidt/Cronkite News)

App to report police behavior suggested

Earlier Wednesday, Richard Crews, director of the Radicle Solutions Group, a consultancy group that works with organizations to address issues of institutional racism and oppression, proposed a technological solution to what he called a “systemic problem” of police violence.

The only way to address the issue of police violence, he said, is to create “an effective mechanism that exists for communities to be able to air what those grievances are.”

Smartphone apps could allow members of the community to more easily report any officer who has “conducted themselves in any manner that is unbecoming,” he said.

Cronkite News reporters Bayne Froney, Tanner Puckett and Grayson Schmidt contributed to this story.

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Tsanavi Spoonhunter
Reporter | Producer
Northern Arapaho | Northern Paiute
Indian Country Today, Summer Intern