PHOENIX — The line into the Phoenix City Council meeting started forming at 1:00 p.m. Wednesday, 90 minutes before the start of the meeting.
Shadows from the Calvin Goode building and a few trees provided some shade. The fire department dropped off cases of iced down bottles of water.
I don't know if anyone said ‘thank you’. But it was appreciated. No one who came for the meeting seemed to mind the heat. They sensed it was going to be hotter inside.
In between blasts from a DJ playing Dawn Penn and Bob Marley songs, community organizers and activists took turns on the microphone. Activists led chants of "You can't hide, we know your racist side". Organizers instructed arrivals to be sure to fill out a yellow speakers card. "At the top write budget item number 40." The plan was to have as many people as possible demand the city council not fund the Phoenix Police Department until the officers involved in a videotaped encounter showing them with guns drawn, yelling obscenities to a young man, his pregnant fiancée and two young children were fired.
The council's budget vote came a day after Mayor Kate Gallego, Police Chief Jeri Williams, Councilman Michael Nowakowski and other city officials attended a community meeting at the Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church. 2,500 people filed into the church. Over the course of two hours, the mayor and the chief heard personal stories of how officers shot, killed, or terrorized family members and friends with impunity.
A few hours before the city council meeting, it was clear the mayor was still processing all she heard the previous evening.
"I get they want something done immediately," Mayor Gallego said. "But this is going to take time."
Gallego points to a change in training methods for new recruits, one that focuses on scenario based situations and decision making. Officers will also be trained or re-trained in dealing with mental health calls. The department is also increasing the number of body cameras officers will wear.
But after ten years of committees, studies and recommendations that went nowhere, a growing number of people have little patience for a police department involved in 44 officer involved shooting incidents in 2018. The response by the officers who confronted Davon Aimes, Iesha Harper and their young daughters for an alleged shoplifting incident has driven the wedge even wider. Some of the residents who attended the meeting told the mayor they voted for her, and she needs to act now.
"When I was a kid living a horrible life," J.J. Johnson told the council. "The men who beat my mother used to say, ‘look at what you made me do’. That seems to be the policy, the tactical policy of the Phoenix Police Department."
With comments that were at times raw, accusatory, and eloquent doctors, retirees, children and activists, all demanded the council take action.
As one man said, "Here in Phoenix we are very smart people. A very smart group of people. Our community is better than this. Our residents are better than this. And now we've come forward to work with you to make policing better than it is."
The council went on to pass the $4.4 billion budget, including the $721 million for police. Gallego pledged to begin the process of creating a citizens review board of officer conduct which community advocates have requested for years. It's a start.