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Jul 4, 22

Protests Against Attacks on Reproductive Freedom in Phoenix Face Police and far-Right Repression and Surveillance

Report on ongoing demonstrations in so-called Phoenix, Arizona in the wake of the Supreme Court overturning of Roe v Wade.

Since Friday June 24th when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, demonstrations have occurred on a nightly basis in so-called Phoenix, Arizona. Due to the hot summer weather which is typical for Phoenix, people have been gathering from the evening to nighttime. Every night these rallies have taken place at the State Capitol which is a strategically problematic location for direct actions.

The State Capitol is located about one mile west of the edge of the downtown Phoenix area and the area surrounding it typically has low traffic, especially at night. Many other government buildings are in the area which like the Capitol are typically closed at night. This leaves the Capitol for little more than a space to hear each other speak and chant while the building itself is empty and there is no audience except for the police.

History of Nightly Events

During the first night, cops tear gassed demonstrators who assembled outside. During the second night, cops detained numerous people including legal observers and media. See here and here. The agency engaging in this state repression is DPS (Department of Public Safety) which is the state police force. On the third night, a group of armed fascists with the AZ Patriots – a known anti-immigrant hate group – showed up with firearms to intimidate demonstrators.

That same night the protest crowd panicked and ran in fear of an active shooter when a pro-abortion rights demonstrator placed a Thin Blue Line flag on the ground which was soaking wet from the rain and began to sling a long gun for protection from the fascists. Nearby anarchists quickly intervened to stop the panic and most of the crowd returned and the demonstration continued. The person with the gun and the Thin Blue Line flag was falsely arrested but released soon after. They intended to stomp or burn it after being asked about it. This should have been obvious to people considering it was on the ground, wet, and not being flown or waved. Folks also stated that the person never pointed the gun at anyone.

While a fence was erected around the Capitol by the second night, it was later reinforced totaling three fences with the middle “fence” being concertina wire. Every night, multiple people attending the demonstration reported being followed to their cars by drones and police vehicles. In some cases, these vehicles continued following people leaving in cars for miles away from the Capitol. Wesley Bolin Plaza, the park across from the Capitol was closed every night and cops frequently harassed, detained, or arrested people simply for walking through it, including unsheltered people not part of the demonstration.

Drone over Van Buren Street SOURCE: Facebook

Further, people began noticing certain people in the crowd who either acted suspicious or were otherwise seen outright collaborating with police. A white man who had been present for several nights was followed when leaving and found to have entered a parking lot for state vehicles only and left in a blue SUV that demonstrators had seen following them on previous nights. A white woman who was one of the organizers for some of the nights was seen repeatedly talking to police. When confronted multiple times about why this behavior is unsafe, she became defensive and did not provide logical answers. On the 7th night (Thursday) the entire crowd was talking about her while speakers were discussing on the megaphone why it is important to keep spaces as free of police informants as possible. What people did not realize was that during this important discussion, she had been sitting far in the back of the crowd in the dark dressed in black bloc. She immediately left when called out. Neither returned the next night.

First Friday Art Walk

Many online fliers circulated telling folks to be at the Capitol at 7 pm on Friday July 1st. After arriving at the Capitol, a large group of demonstrators possibly close to 1,000, were marching in the street on 17th Avenue heading south toward the Capitol. They were being led by march marshals wearing yellow vests with the PSL logo on them (Party for Socialism and Liberation – Phoenix). One of them began talking to the police waiting at the corner of 17th Avenue and Adams Street. When walking away from police he then loudly said the name of a demonstrator in black bloc on the corner. This is a serious concern regarding security culture. The large crowd being led by PSL march marshals were escorted to the very same park that has been closed every night.

PSL Protest Marshal Speaking with Police in Phoenix, AZ

The large crowd was rather separated with folks on the Capitol lawn and folks at Wesley Bolin Plaza. After it got dark outside, everyone moved to the Capitol lawn. It appeared that some people trying to lead the gathering were essentially expecting 1,000 or more people to yell and chant through a fence at an empty Capitol building all night. After announcements were made on a megaphone encouraging people to stop chanting at empty buildings and instead march to First Friday where thousands of people would be, the crowd began doing just that. By the time the crowd started moving, the PSL march marshals were no where to be seen.

Mass March hits First Friday in Phoenix

Hundreds of people took both sidewalks along Van Buren Street and marched toward the downtown area. As people moved into the downtown area, traffic and visibility picked up and lots of pedestrians and cars going by expressed their support. Upon arrival to the crowded downtown area of Roosevelt Row where First Friday was taking place, large numbers of people on both sides of the road and in vehicles expressed their support. There was some agitation by opponents, right-wingers, and fascists including a minor fight that broke out but soon ended. The group marched through most of First Friday and then about halfway back entered the street. From that point forward, it was a street action and went back the other way before going back through again. When arriving back toward the center of First Friday the entire crowd took a seat in the intersection in protest. By this time cops had been gathering around in increasing numbers. However, marked vehicles were further back re-directing traffic while the majority of cops standing relatively close by were Phoenix Police Red Squad or as they call them “Community Response Squad.” The crowd ignored the police and did not interact with them other than the occasional “fuck the police” yell.

People spent at least a half hour or more in the street at this intersection chanting and taking turns speaking on the megaphones. Sadly, street actions are relatively rare in Phoenix due to a range of problematic dynamics including the ultra-repressive policing and far-Right political environment, suspected counter-insurgency tactics to divide up groups before they can become effective, and the fact that many people in Phoenix are not from Phoenix, so there are often people moving in and moving out making it difficult to have a solid, consistent, and sizable base of people. So, when hundreds of people or more get in the streets during a busy event in Phoenix, it’s usually a worthwhile direct action.

Fences Erected outside of Arizona Capitol

In addition to abortion rights being discussed, the topic of so-called Independence Day also came up. The general consensus of the crowd was that it should not be celebrated. Some folks discussed burning U.S. flags. A land acknowledgement of sorts was also done reminding folks that this city, state, and country is stolen land, that this land is Akimel O’otham territory, and that the 4th of July should never be celebrated.

After a while, the crowd marched back to the Capitol and called it a night. Reports from folks indicated one arrest as of this writing but otherwise the police departments (Arizona DPS and Phoenix PD) were largely hands-off. Much of the crowd was white so between that and the fact that Phoenix PD has been under fire for their treatment of protesters in 2020 – most notably the 10/17/20 “gang” charges – they toned down the overt state repression at least for the night.

This comes at a time when recently April Sponsel, the prosecutor behind the felony protest cases has been fired; Jeri Williams, the Phoenix Police chief is resigning; and Allister Adel, the top county prosecutor recently resigned and then died a month later due to circumstances that are being hidden from the public. This all being said, fuck the Supreme Court, fuck the 4th, fuck the police, and fuck this settler state. And fuck cis-hetero-patriarchy.

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