Phoenix Protest Turns Violent as Tear Gas Fills the Streets

Riot police keep protesters away from the Phoenix Convention Center, site of a President Donald Trump rally on Tuesday night. (Scott Buffon/CNS)

PHOENIX (CN) — A Phoenix rally for President Donald Trump ended in violence Tuesday night, but city officials and protesters don’t agree on which side fired tear gas first, or if anyone was hurt.

“The good news is that the job of the Phoenix Police Department tonight, the first and foremost job, was to make sure that everyone got home safely,” Mayor Greg Stanton said at a late-night new conference after protesters were dispersed. “Whether it be people that were inside this convention center, people outside the convention center, and of course, members of [Phoenix police], without injury or death. The good news is that is exactly what occurred in Phoenix, Arizona tonight.”

Trump supporters and protesters were Maced, shot with rubber bullets and tear gassed after Trumps campaign-style rally ended Tuesday. Reporters pressed Police Chief Jeri Williams for answers, saying police threw tear gas at protesters without warning, while the city claimed that protesters threw tear gas first.

“That is not the information I received,” Williams said. “The information I received said that the police were tear gassed first.”

Mayor Stanton said he would wait to speak further until an after-incident review.

Clouds of tear gas spread through the air outside of Phoenix Convention Center after the rally ended.

Pepper bullets were fired into the crowd. People were hit with pepper spray, and loud explosions rang through downtown as police threw flash-bang grenades.

Samantha Bellach yells at people entering the Phoenix Donald Trump rally on Aug. 22, one person in a sea of protesters outside the Phoenix Convention Center. (Scott Buffon/CNS)

Protesters said that someone threw a water bottle at police, and police responded with tear gas. A police spokesman said that bottles and rocks were thrown.

“In [our GoPro] footage after, there’s someone who threw a water bottle … but we didn’t see any gas,” said Katie Sawyer, a student from NAU.

Riot police methodically pushed protesters away from the convention center. Many fled with reddened eyes.

One military veteran was shot in the thigh with a pepper bullet. A Trump supporter was Maced for trying to shake the hand of a police officer.

Four people were arrested.

The scene during the day was largely peaceful, despite temperatures that reached 108 degrees.

Carlos Garcia, executive director of Puente, a grassroots migrant justice group, was determined to keep people safe.

“I think after Charlottesville it’s actually more important to come out,” Garcia said. “Yes, there’s fear. Yes, there’s the possibility of something happening like what happened in Charlottesville. We hope it doesn’t happen. But I think there’s more fear, more risk, to allow Trump to implement his policies like he wants to.”

As protesters gathered, they chanted and yelled as Trump supporters entered the convention center. The street, blocked off by police and metal barricades, left an empty stretch of asphalt between protesters and supporters.

Protesters held signs, played music, and displayed inflatable balloons depicting Trump and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Congressman Ruben Gallego, a Democrat, joined the crowd of protesters early on in the day.

Gallego supported Mayor Stanton’s request last week asking the president to forego his rally in light of Charlottesville.

“The country needs some time to heal,” Gallego said. “The president has a right to be here. I would have preferred if he would have just waited a little longer. That way we had some distance, and less angst going on.”

Trump indicated last week, and again Tuesday night, that he would pardon Arpaio, who was convicted of criminal contempt of court for violating a federal judge’s order to stop racially profiling and arresting Latinos.

Trump told his supporters at the rally: “I’ll make a prediction. I think he’s going to be just fine. But I won’t do it tonight because I don’t want to cause any controversy, is that OK?”

Jason Hurwitz, a Phoenix artist and protester, didn’t buy it.

“That’s all he does is cause controversy. Everything he has done is controversial,” Hurwitz said.

Trump used the rally to threaten to shut down the federal government if Congress does not provide funding for a wall at the Mexican border.

Fili Becerra, a Phoenix teacher at the protest, said: “Building a wall does not solve anything.”

Protesters were on their way to the third protest at the Capitol building when the tear gas was fired into the crowd, halting the protests.

Trump left several minutes before the first tear gas canisters were fired, as the city, supporters and protesters dealt with the aftermath and the competing stories already emerging from it.

%d bloggers like this: