Filed under: Action, Featured, Incarceration, Police, Repression, Southwest
Reflection on recent round of noise demonstrations outside of the Pima County Detention Center in so-called Tucson, Arizona.
What follows is a brief reportback from the birthday noise demo outside the Pima County Detention Center in Tucson on Friday, February 11th, 2022. A longer report on the struggle that has emerged around the jail in general is hopefully coming soon.
This third noise demo was called to coincide with Frances Guzman’s birthday for many reasons. One being that she wanted to mark her first birthday without her son, Cruz Patiño Jr, in a way that would truly honor him. Another, to demand answers for why her son and so many others have lost their lives in the depths of that cold and dead building. Another, might be that she and others currently have loved ones in that jail, the same jail which has swallowed one life per month for the last year.
The reasons folks decided to attend are at least as numerous as how many showed up, which was around 150 people. There were so many children and so many families. It is tempting to describe how their numbers compare to the “political people” who showed up, the ones the news or liberals would parrot the Pima County Sheriffs in calling the trouble makers, outsiders who have no stake in the dismantling of this jail, whose privileged lives have afforded them little to no contact with the subtle misery of something like the cold concrete of a holding cell’s floor.
The first step in countering an emergent, combative movement is to define and therefore put as much distance between the active combatants from those who might support their combat. A closer look easily reveals this as a purely policing operation, the deliberate creation of a combatant, set apart from a combative crowd. This doesn’t mean there is no difference amongst the crowd, but the lines aren’t so easy to draw if we can acknowledge that underneath the black hoods and behind the banners are those who have lost loved ones to state violence or spent time in cells themselves. Some may even feel they have only found something like “safety” in a crowd of angry and determined people, willing to act and to protect each other.
So the crowd, in all its difference, assembled at 7pm outside the Jail much like it had in previous months. This time the visible presence of families was much larger than the last, each time it has grown as the families’ networks have expanded rapidly. This time we kicked the night off with Frances taking the first swings at a piñata of the jail, busting candy everywhere, followed by an assortment of children wailing on the effigy. We sang happy birthday to Frances and heard some brief but powerful thoughts from other families. The latest life taken, Sylvestre Miguel Inzunza, was only 18. His family came out in huge numbers. Sylvestre only died last week and at the time of the demo his family had not yet laid him to rest. The urgency to do anything to stop what is happening inside was palpable.
The music cranked, an indigenous demonstrator began to smudge, and the sound built into a cacaphony of noise aimed at the walls of the jail. Soon the fireworks came out, and the children cheered. As we ran out of fireworks it was clear that the crowd was still not satisfied so they began to spill out onto Silverlake road. The jail is situated out of the way, along a wide and dark road which tends to have little traffic at night. If some of the intent of these demonstrations was to get the attention of more people and alert them to what is happening, blocking traffic on the 2nd weekend of Gem Show was a good instinct. The Gem Show in Tucson is the largest gem and mineral Show in the world. It is a mainstay for the Tucson economy, so creating even mild disturbances on its opening weekend is certain to get some feathers ruffled.
Hooded demonstrators acted quickly to make the demonstration more visible by facing traffic with banners and road flares. Parents of various people killed in the jail led chants and the whole crowd continued to make so much noise. A mobile soundsystem cranked the vibe again and some in the crowd began to dance. When we saw the red and blue lights of TPD no one seemed scared, the crowd just grew more determined and began to march towards them. Around this time the first graffiti went up on road signs.
A standoff soon began towards the east side of the jail. TPD was holding the road and redirecting traffic while a van of Sheriffs lurked in the dark near the gated entrance to the employee parking lot. Parts of the crowd confronted both simultaneously. Eventually the crowd’s primary attention fell on the Sheriffs, as they are the ones who staff the jail. We began to march towards them and their van sped off, leaving the employee parking lot entirely open. Naturally the crowd moved into the lot, surrounding a car and van full of Sheriffs that had arrived from the back. Almost immediately demonstrators set signs and pictures of lost loved ones on the windows facing inward to the Sheriffs inside. It wasn’t long before a handful of people got to work on the van. There are times in which it is clear exactly what needs to be done. Total strangers communicated through a look or a nod. When the crowd finally backed up, it was less because the bumbling line of Sheriffs had assembled themselves, but because people had already satisfied themselves with wet paint and hissing tires.
They brought a fucking dog. There were tons of kids. Fucking cowards https://t.co/kRe56RvXwx
— Autonomy Tucson (@autonomytucson) February 12, 2022
When the Sheriffs realized that some of their toys had gotten scratched, their demeanor shifted. The crowd was getting smaller and the sheriffs numbers grew. After much discussion amongst the demonstrators, folks fell back to the front parking lot where most people had parked. As the crowd slowly dispersed, the cowardly sheriffs, having suffered such bruised egos, charged a smaller group of people, apparently attempting to snatch a teenager. They later claimed in a news article the attempted arrest was for graffiti, but who knows what truth there is to that. Although it was clearly a coordinated maneuver, they made several tactical missteps which resulted in an ultimate failure to successfully arrest anyone in this particular attempt. We can break their failure into two parts. One is an emotional component and the other is technical. It appeared that the Sergeant Voldemort Svec (fig. A) both underestimated his emotional state and that of the demonstrators. He and two other sheriffs attempted the snatch by charging far ahead of the others, separating themselves from immediate back up in their overzealous attempt to avenge their van’s tires. In their miscalculation, they failed to predict that so many demonstrators would rush to the aid of the small group. Some leaping over benches to jump straight into the pile.
The sheriffs were clearly shocked by this ferocity, causing their grips to loosen and some of the rest of them to freeze and even back up instead of aiding their fellow officers. Their technical failure directly relates to their emotional failure, clearly not having much experience keeping their cool in crowd situations. This can make you wonder how many times they’ve let their emotions over take them in their brutality relating to the general public. Having successfully pulled back from the sheriffs, the crowd could see they were being flanked from the other side by a group of officers. The crowd continued to back up, some demonstrators moving slowly back using their bikes as barriers, others using their bodies to shield families with children from the kidnappers and their literal dogs. Again someone in the crowd outmaneuvered the sheriffs by letting off a smoke bomb that gave further pause to the sheriffs and helped put more distance between them and the scattering crowd. As people left the area the sheriffs pitifully screamed “Unlawful assembly! Leave now!” in an attempt to assert control where they clearly had none.
Figure 1: Sgt Voldemort Svec
It is unfortunate that the night still ended in 2 arrests as a car was pulled over after the dispersal. Two relatives of Cruz Patiño Jr were charged with multiple felonies in a clear act of spineless but predictable intimidation of his family for seeking justice for his death. If any tactical failure exists on our side, it is a failure to properly collect and distribute information about the geographic layout of the area around the jail. It is a vast, dark, and secluded area with a small number of streets, most of which are dead ends aside from Silverlake, the main road in front of and in direct view of the jail. Tucson’s infrastructure is laid out intentionally this way, having expanded rapidly in the ’50s along with Phoenix, following more suburban, car-centered urban design which is partially meant to diminish social unrest and play in favor of surveillance and policing strategy. An aspect of this includes dispersing vital policing infrastructure through out the city, placing key hubs in secluded and isolated places that are more easily controlled and surveilled. It is absolutely crucial that those of us interested in seeing combative capacities expand in Tucson work hard to understand how this dynamic affects struggle here and come up with creative tactics and strategies to circumvent it. Nonetheless, as the energy of the families continues to ramp up and people’s creative capacity for resistance continues to push boundaries, it is clear that this fight is far from over even in the face of repression.