PHOENIX, AZ - “The news headlines don’t tell the whole story about Phoenix police use of force to disperse crowds outside the Phoenix Convention Center on Tuesday night,” said Rev. Dr. Bill Lyons, spiritual leader of the United Church of Christ in Arizona, New Mexico, and El Paso, TX. “Police continued to deploy chemical munitions against a crowd that was chanting, ‘Peaceful protest! Peaceful protest!’ while holding their hands in the air. I know because I was there. I was gassed. My video and I bear witness to what happened Tuesday night.” Lyons was talking to another clergy person when a canister of pepper smoke ricocheted off the steps and exploded six feet away.
Before the protests, faith leaders expressed concern to Phoenix police officials that their announcement of ‘zero tolerance’ regarding protesters was setting the stage for escalating rather than de-escalating any tensions between crowds and law enforcement officers. Although police officials offered assurances that officers were briefed on professionalism, those briefings appear to have fallen on deaf ears, and the faith leaders’ concerns were both prophetic and justified.
The timing of the police action coincided with Trump rally attendees crossing the convention center’s glass bridge over 3rd street.
We are clear that throwing objects at law enforcement officers is unacceptable. We are equally clear that police use of force should reflect the level of threat demonstrated by assailants.
“The police got it wrong last night,” said Lyons. “If they had been my kids I would have told them to use their words. No verbal instructions were given to the crowd to disperse. No warning of impending use of gas or smoke was given. It wasn’t until after the chemical weapons were deployed and I was blocks away could I faintly hear a helicopter broadcasting a warning to leave the area of face arrest.”
Dr. Lyons has asked the office of Police Chief Jeri Williams for the opportunity to talk with her about the police action against the crowd. He is awaiting details from the office of Mayor Greg Stanton for such a conversation.
While the president was spewing what news commentators named as “unprecedented” and “unhinged,” hundreds of ordinary citizens, people of faith and people of no particular faith, gathered for an interfaith prayer vigil and then marched downtown. They joined thousands of people who filled Phoenix streets with their vision of a united America whose hallmarks are love and inclusion, a country governed by justice. They were what hope in our country looked like Tuesday night. That should have been headline from outside the Phoenix Convention Center. But the thousands were obscured and their headline was stolen by clouds of police-launched tear gas in a democracy teetering on the brink.
Rev. Dr. Bill Lyons is available for interviews. You may contact him at 602-468-3830 or 602-