Trump rally at Phoenix church draws protesters, Phoenix police use non-lethal force to disperse demonstrators


Jason White

Protestor from W.E. Rising Project infront of Riot Police

Ivana Venema-Nunez, Reporter

The Trump rally in North Phoenix on Tuesday was met with protest from those who also organized the Black Lives Matter movement, W.E Rising Project, who have been demonstrating in Downtown Phoenix for the past 21 days, since George Floyd’s death.

The Trump Rally, held at the Dream City Church, one of the nation’s largest megachurches, had been criticized earlier in the week because the church offered a possible solution to critics who were concerned with COVID-19 in a closed space. 

The church leader said that technology installed in the building’s ventilation system  would clean the air and kill the disease [COVID-19], according to a New York Times article published on Tuesday.

“So when you come into our auditorium, 99 percent of Covid is gone, killed, if it was there in the first place” the pastor, Luke Barnett, said in the video. “You can know when you come here, you’ll be safe and protected. Thank God for great technology and thank God for being proactive.”

According to the NYT article, using charged ions to remove airborne pollutants is not new, but experts say that the air cannot be cleansed as quickly as CleanAir EXP claims. 

On Monday, Mayor Kate Gallego (D), criticized the event by saying, “it does not abide by C.D.C. guidelines during Covid-19.”

“Public health is a group effort, not a partisan issue,” she added. “It requires the participation of every resident and every level of government.”

Despite the exponential increase in hospitalizations and new cases,  very few people at the rally appeared to be wearing facial coverings and the crowd was shown shoulder to shoulder. 

The event was sponsored by Students for Trump, a group affiliated with Turning Point Action, a pro-Trump group backed by the financier Charlie Kirk, according to the NYT article.

A few hundred people gathered outside of Dream City Church to protest the Trump Rally. 

The protest started at the Home Depot parking lot down the street and headed towards the church at 2:15 p.m.  The demonstrators traveled north chanting, “Black Lives Matter” and “Whose streets? Our streets!” while drivers  traveling south honked their horns.  Some in agreement and some otherwise.

J.T Lee, an entrepreneur, expressed why he is participating in the protest and that now, more than ever, communication will create change.

“I feel like he doesn’t care about the people,” Lee added, “where he wouldn’t have an enclosed rally when our numbers on COVID are going up exponentially every single day, so just that lack of empathy that he has shows his leadership is outdated and it doesn’t work.”

As the protesters approached the church, a “free-speech zone” was marked by metal barricades and police presence, where some Trump supporters clashed with the protesters and both sides confronted each other in discussion. 

Even with the confrontation, there was no escalation of physical violence to either party.  However, around 4:30 p.m. Phoenix Police put on riot gear and lined up at the intersection of Cave Creek Road and Sharon Drive. They began to order protesters to back up, and suddenly police shot flash-bang grenades and a burst of pepper spray at some of the protesters who were at the front of the crowd. 

Police hadn’t used non-lethal  force since May 31 when Gov. Doug Ducey implemented a curfew to encourage protesters to leave before 8 p.m.

Phoenix Police then proceeded to name the protest an “unlawful assembly” and to “disperse and leave immediately”.

A child was in the middle of the pepper spray incident.

According to an AZCentral article, the protest had been deemed an unlawful assembly because two protesters allegedly hit two officers.

The Phoenix Police tweeted that an unlawful assembly was declared “due to criminal activity and a current danger to our community.”

Around 4:30 p.m. “demonstrators began to move outside the area designated free speech zone, blocking traffic and moving into an area protected for the Presidential Motorcade,” Phoenix police spokeswoman Sgt. Ann Justus said in a statement. 

“Two demonstrators committed aggravated assault against police officers when they each swung at and struck two separate officers.  Other demonstrators began throwing objects at officers,” she said. She said she did not know if it was a punch, slap, or something else. 

Many protesters call this very use of force unnecessary when demonstrations were peaceful.

W.E. Rising Project posted on Twitter condemning the police action. 

“There was absolutely no need for the police to use excessive force on our protesters,” the tweet said. “The W.E. Rising family has shown the city of Phoenix that we are nonviolent protesters, and for us to be assaulted is unacceptable. We will not stand for this.”