Sunday, December 30, 2001

Glendale Police Brutality March Report

by Brian T.
Sun Dec 30 '01

Article describing the 12/19 march against police brutality in Glendale. Includes background, the march and my experience assisting in the organizing with the Phoenix Anarchist Coalition. Another version, including critique and analysis, will appear in the zine, "Necrotic State".

Members of a largely immigrant Glendale community battling police brutality, other victims and families of victims of police brutality, the Phoenix Anarchist Coalition (PAC), the Arizona Anarcho-Punk Federation, Phoenix Copwatch, North Phoenix Anti-Racist Action and the Phoenix Industrial Workers of the World joined together for a march through downtown Glendale and a Know Your Rights Forum on Wednesday, December 19th, the one-year anniversary of an early morning police raid which left 23 young men arrested. The day was also coincidentally the one-month anniversary of another police shooting in nearby Peoria in which the cops killed an unarmed man when he reached for a cell phone.

Phoenix Anarchist Coalition members first met the Glendale families at last year's Martin Luther King, Jr. march. The families had taken over a hill overlooking the event, carrying huge banners and signs denouncing the Glendale police as racist brutalizers. A conversation was begun there, and the families were eager to talk about what had happened to them. Over the course of the next year, several PAC members went across town to hear their stories and to offer any support that was needed. Despite some difficulties in communication because of the lack of Spanish speakers within our group, a special effort was made to keep in touch with these families to stay on top of developments and then, when this year's October 22 police brutality march was planned, the families were invited. We were definitely aware that it was up to us to be relevant to their struggle, not the other way around. Happily, they came and spoke at several points along the march, bringing with them the most passionate speakers and the most wonderful banners.

The stories that the families told were brutal ones indeed. In a series of early morning attacks, officers of the Glendale Police Department (GPD) simultaneously raided 23 homes in Glendale, serving warrants on sons and brothers who were alleged by the GPD to be members of the Califas gang. The families vehemently deny this allegation. Instead, they complain about a pattern of harassment in which the GPD intimidated, categorized and photographed their sons based on a very loose set of gang criteria: they were effectively tried and convicted by the police merely because of their income, skin color and who they knew.

When the police came, they blew down doors with explosives and charged into the houses with overwhelming force, including automatic weapons, surprising many of the residents in their pajamas and underwear. In one case, the GPD lay in wait outside a home and arrested two brothers as they left for work in the early morning, down the street, then waited for their father to leave as well. Then, when the house was almost empty, the police charged the door, knocking hard without declaring themselves. Thinking that one of her sons had forgotten something, the mother of the two newly arrested young men made her way towards the door with a small child in her arms to open it. Mere moments after knocking, the GPD set off explosive charges which blew the door to smithereens, sending pieces of the metal hinges and doorknob flying through the air like shrapnel. But for a second or two, this woman would certainly have been killed or seriously injured - the doorknob flew through the air, through the wall and into an adjoining bedroom from the force of the explosion. As a result, this family was left without a door in the middle of December. All the families, including small children and pregnant women, were held at gunpoint while police armed with automatic weapons ransacked their homes and arrested many young men. Police were rude, aggressive and uncooperative when residents asked to see warrants or for explanations. Eventually 25 young men were arrested, and 22 of them still sit in jail one year later.

The attorneys for the police have pressured the young men while in jail to take plea deals. One sixteen year old boy who took a deal has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for illegal possession of a handgun. Gus, the father of one of those still in jail and one of the neighborhood organizers characterized it this way: "They [Glendale police] are pressuring these kids to sign plea bargains. They [the young men arrested] are not killers. They are not terrorists. Is this the law? Is this the civil rights for the United States? This is like Gestapo! They [Glendale Police] don't respect anything."

As if that weren't bad enough, there is also some evidence that the GPD orchestrated this raid as a way to justify a new Federal anti-gang task force grant it was applying for. Two weeks after the raid, Glendale was approved for the money. Not that we should be surprised by this, but it certainly casts the GPD in a truly shameful light.

A few weeks after the O22 march, the Glendale families decided that they wanted to have a march of their own on the anniversary of the police attacks. Explaining why, Gus said, "It has passed one year, but it still hurts me and the Mexican community. They do not need to commit police brutality. We still remember. That is the reason that we march. I will never forget what they did. It was four months of investigation and we have been waiting one year for evidence. Do you think it's fair? I don't think it's fair."

PAC members were asked to assist in the planning, and so a hurried series of meetings took place in which anarchists and neighborhood residents decided cooperatively on a route, on a press release that was written and faxed out, on inviting groups, and on designing flyers to distributed in both english and spanish. Once this was done, PAC mostly focused on getting out anarchists to the march. However, on one of the flyer distributions we assisted in out in Glendale, two Glendale neighborhood residents and two PAC members hit up shoppers at a local grocery chain and another nearby westside neighborhood that had recently seen an unarmed man shot and killed by police after reaching for a cell phone, leaving his young girlfriend widowed and their 2 month old baby without a father. When we got there, I was disturbed to find that it was a neighborhood in which I had spent a lot of time as a younger punk. I'd spent probably three or four days a week hanging out just a block from where the shooting happened. It was a mixed working class white and hispanic neighborhood.

While handing out flyers, two interesting things happened. First, through asking around, the house where the young man lived was located. We knocked but no one was home and so we left Copwatch literature, along with a note expressing sympathy, information on the march and a contact number. We knew his girlfriend would be grieving, but we also knew that this was an issue she would have a personal connection to. We were a little unsure if this was appropriate or not, but, not having any other ideas, we did it anyhow. A few minutes later, while handing out flyers in the same neighborhood, about two blocks away, we ran into a man whose sister was now taking care of half a dozen kids orphaned when a mentally ill woman was shot and killed by police on May 1, last year. Most of us remember this event clearly because it came on the same day as our local May Day march in which 11 people were arrested.

As part of its new strategy, Copwatch, a group I am involved with, had decided to increase its patrols of this neighborhood, and the week before the march there was a patrol in which the Glendale police stopped one of our cars after we pulled over to observe a stop. The cops were ticketing a hispanic man for a broken headlight at a corner gas station. After being detained for 20 minutes, it turned out that it was just a bad fuse. At one point the man, explaining to the cop, reached out and kicked the headlight - it came on immediately. Too late - he was still ticketed. While we were there the cops called out a bunch of unnecessary backup, including a sergeant, who promptly came up to us like the big man he is to tell us what we could and could not do (as if we don't know). He told us we made the cops nervous by the way we pulled up on the scene. When the stop was over, we drove off, only to be pulled over a few blocks down the road by a cop car that had immediately swung in behind us after we left the gas station. The officer who pulled us over demanded to know who Copwatch was, what it was doing, where it was based and various other information. When we were released, an unmarked car followed us out of
Glendale. Clearly, the Glendale cops are nervous about being watched.

When the day of the march came, everyone gathered on a street corner downtown. About 80 to 100 people eventually showed up and the march moved out. Copwatch shadowed the march, sporting their trademark orange shirts with cameras in hand while we proceeded down the street towards the police headquarters, stopping periodically to show the beautiful banners made by the Glendale families. The cops were trying to play nice by stopping traffic for us. People were generally very supportive, and many honks from passing cars followed us as we marched thanks to a "Honk if you hate the police" sign. At this point I'd like to make a critique of the way the march proceeded. Probably unconsciously the march had segregated, with mostly white anarchists up front and mostly non-white folks at the back. This was particularly distressing because it was not the anarchists' march. Several people tried consciously to remedy this and by the time we left the police station, the march mixed up more, although some anarchists continued to take the lead, which I found distressing, since our role was to be
supportive and not co-optive.

I was also a bit distressed by the number of anarchists wearing masks on the march. While I recognize the utility of masks, and have worn one on many occasions, this particular time it seemed inappropriate. For me, although I had a mask, I opted not to wear it for two reasons. First of all, I was just so impressed that these people could stand up, without masks, and denounce the very cops who had brutalized them that I just couldn't justify hiding my identity. How sad would that be if I, not even a resident of this community, and being white, felt I had to hide my face, despite all my privilege, while these people with so little and who had been so recently victimized refused to do likewise. Could I, despite being a victim of police brutality myself, honestly say I was in more danger than these people were? My answer was clearly, no. In fact, many times in front of the HQ I heard residents demand that the cops show themselves and come out of the building, chastising them as cowards for not doing so. Hiding behind a mask at that point seemed insupportable to me. Secondly, the Glendale cops were not filming the march, unlike they were in Phoenix at O22 or Mayday. So, even strategically, it made little sense to conceal my identity. I was glad to see most anarchists going unmasked, though. I was also glad to see most of the anarchists playing supportive roles and taking their lead from the residents themselves about what was appropriate behavior.

Eventually we reached the police station. The bullhorn was passed around as people spoke, denouncing the police. A few cops guarded the building's entrance and were treated to condemnations from one angry resident after another. It was mostly women who spoke, often shaking with emotion, screaming about their sons' situations and the fascist, inexcusable behavior of the cops. About 20 people spoke, probably more, each followed by supportive applause from those assembled. The most moving part for me was when the sister of one of those incarcerated stood, a few feet from the cops, screaming, "My brother got ten years for having a gun in our house! How much time are you guys going to get for bringing your guns into my house and pointing them at us?! How many years are you going to get?! Fuck you!"

Another inspiring moment came when it was revealed that the girlfriend of the man shot with the cell phone had come to the march. She had called our house the night before the march asking about it. She brought with her their small baby and a photograph of her boyfriend. Shaking tearfully, she told her tragic story. When she was done, one of the anarcha-punks rushed up to comfort her and the two embraced. The cops stood there without expression, unmoved. More peeked from behind the glass doors, cravenly taking in the scene on the street.

After about 20 or more minutes of loud denunciations, while some of the media took pictures and filmed (only one english-language media outlet bothered to come - the rest were all spanish-language), we began to move out. Suddenly, however, half the march stopped and started running back to the entrance. One of the cops had gone inside, apparently, and a group of people started chanting, "Chicken! Chicken!" over and over at him. This continued for a while, along with a few more angry words from demonstrators. Eventually, though, the march moved out again.

As we headed down the street some of the residents moved into the streets. Following their cue, so did some of the anarchists. The cops were busy blocking off streets and one lane of traffic. This continued off and on for a little while until we reached the library and turned around, heading back along the other side of the street. The police ignored it, unlike on Mayday where they attacked us, armed to the teeth. There were some attempts to get some chants going, but it was difficult. One failing is that during the actual march the bullhorn was rarely in the hands of the residents. At the stops it was, but in between it wasn't, most of the time. Further, we hadn't prepared any spanish-language chants, and neither had the families. As a result, most of the chants that were started petered out pretty quickly. We should not make this mistake again. In the future we need to have printed out, english and spanish language chants to distribute in case no one else does. PAC has a regularly meeting spanish class, so hopefully this is something they will take up - I know they recently translated our anti-police flyer.

Finally, as the march was about to reach the end, it came across an unmarked police car in the parking lot of Pete's Fish and Chips, occupied by four fat and arrogant pigs in long-sleeved dark blue shirts emblazoned with "POLICE" across the front. Gus, stopped and called for the megaphone. It turned out that one of the cops in the car was one who had raided his house. The megaphone was handed over to him and he let loose on that cop, denouncing him for his role in the raid, and asking him whether he was ashamed or not and if he understood the consequences of his actions. Things were really heating up as the crowd began to mass around the cop car. The pigs were visibly nervous as the crowd grew bigger and began moving on them. The car slowly began to move backwards down an alley, unable to turn around. The crowd, encouraged, began to advance and cheer, following as it went. It began to retreat faster as it called for backup and cops on bikes and motorcycles moved in to surround it so it could make an escape. The people surrounded these cops, who seemed scared and began blaring their sirens and revving their engines to intimidate us. Some anarchists locked arms on one side of the cops while the neighborhood residents carrying the banner used it to block off the cops from the other direction. Everyone else closed in from the other sides. Partially surrounded, the cops beat a hasty and disorganized retreat. Cheers and curses went up from everyone as they fled.

We regrouped and several people took the megaphone and spoke while the cops eyed us from a distance. A female PAC member spoke about solidarity and communities standing together in spanish, and there were cheers. Gus spoke again, this time standing on something. He attacked the cops as worthless, finishing off with a loud "Fuck the cops!" Another woman, also a PAC and Copwatch member, spoke about the strength that occurs when different communities stand in solidarity together and about her commitment to seeing an end to the shoot-to-kill policy of the police in the Phoenix-area. Everyone cheered. Slowly everyone dispersed, making their way to the Know Your Rights Forum a couple miles away.

At the KYRF, a spanish-fluent lawyer answered questions about rights, with the assistance of an interpreter. Most the questions, predictably, centered around the recent events in Glendale and the way the police handled themselves. People were very interested in telling their story, venting and asking about their rights. They were also very aware that this kind of harassment does not happen in wealthy white neighborhoods (unless one of them happened to stray into one late at night). One of the obvious points that several people have made coming out of this forum in particular is the necessity for an all spanish forum. It sounds like several people are committed to working on this for the future. Hopefully by then the number of anarchists who speak spanish will have increased as well. There is also the upcoming March 15th international day against police brutality which is coming up. Perhaps there will be another march.


T-cles said...

I was here at this Direct Action. I carpooled with one other PAC member and a couple of kids from the high school I went to that were related to another PAC member.

This was the greatest Direct Action and one of the most amazing events i have ever witnessed in my life. We DID blockade the Glendale police station for the period of about an hour in which no one entered or exited the building! We DID end this rally CHASING the police.

Seth said...

And I actually want to add that the most moving part for me was hands down the girlfriend of the poor man who was shot over the cellphone. I had no idea how much trouble you comrades went through to get the word out to her but it was very powerful when she had the bullhorn. Even though it was over a decade ago I can still remember her saying "this child will grow up without a father because you murdered him! For what, because you thought a cellphone was a gun? How could you think a cell phone looks like a gun!"

Whenever I think of this direct action that child always crosses my mind and i say a prayer inside that he found the strength to overcome this tragedy rather then become another victim of our law enforcement's knack for causing more of the problems that it exists to combat in the first place.