Rally against social injustice marches in south Phoenix; organizers emphasize peace

Posted at 2:58 PM, Jul 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-10 01:38:32-04

Organizers held a second social justice-themed rally in as many days in the Valley.

Those interested gathered at Deliverance International Ministries, 5437 S. Central Avenue, at 4 p.m. Saturday.

Those assembled, estimated at between one and two hundred people, spoke inside the ministry's building before marching to the nearest Phoenix Police Department precinct, near Fourth Avenue and Southern.

The rally came less than 24 hours after a similar one marched through downtown Phoenix. Three people were arrested in confrontations between attendees and police, who blocked 7th Street, preventing the group from reaching Interstate 10.

RAW VIDEO: Protesters clash with police Friday night

Organizers of both demonstrations, who are not related but said they share similar goals, said they are pushing for changes after recent high-profile fatal police shootings in Minneapolis and Baton Rouge.

Though signs at Friday night's march and the flyer for Saturday's gathering both featured the words "Black Lives Matter" -- a reference to the broader nationwide push for reform to the criminal justice system, among other areas, that launched in the wake of the death of Michael Brown at the hands of a Ferguson, Missouri police officer in August 2014-- neither event has been officially endorsed by organizers of the Arizona branch of the Black Lives Matter group.

Leaders of Saturday's rally repeatedly stressed their desire for peace between attendees and the police officers assigned to follow the demonstration. However, several speakers said overall tensions between law enforcement and the community were treated as scars.

One man compared the experience of those in the black community to combat veterans, saying both exchange stories about dangerous situations and talk about the fear of death.

Community activist Cortney King said he had experienced police brutality in Chicago, when he was pulled over during a "random traffic stop," exchanged words with the officer, and was asked to get out of the car. King said the officer beat him up.

"The first thing that goes through black people's mind at [that] point is fear," said King.

He stressed every person should know their rights.

"Be respectful to the officers, treat them as human beings, but expect to be respected as well. Know what your rights are, educate yourself," he said.

Warren Stewart, Jr.,  a community activist and leader, showed up and spoke to people attending the rally about the importance of staying peaceful.

"Violence begets violence," said Stewart.

While he did not agree with the tone of Friday's protests, when people tried to block the I-10 freeway ramps and threw rocks at police officers, Stewart said he understood the strong emotions people were feeling.

"I'm grieved myself.  I was in pain, and sobbing at the vigil because of the pain I carry for all of my people. We're hurting.  It hurts right now," said Stewart.

Even though he had good relationships with local police, Stewart said he too felt fear when he saw the police pull up behind him while driving.

"I get apprehensive immediately," said Warren.

"Even if you comply, these men are getting shot. We can say comply, lay down, be quiet, put your hands on the steering wheel, but I've had guns pulled on me since I was 16 and I've never been to jail, never done a drug or sold a drug.  Sometimes it is just because of the color of our skin," Stewart said.

The Phoenix human relations commission asked anyone who is having a tough time coping with recent events, or feeling strong emotions to call the crisis hotline. The number is 1-800-203-2273.