PHOENIX – Phoenix’s top cop promised Monday there are sufficient protections in place for today’s Trump rally to prevent a repeat of the violent clashes that happened in Charlottesville.
And the reason?
“We’ve done this before,’’ Jeri Williams said. “This is not new for us.’’
The police chief said Phoenix has a long history of being the site of political hot-button events, rallies and marches. And she said the police department has “great working relationships’’ with many of the groups that expect to turn out both to support and hear the president as well as those who want to “exercise their First Amendment rights’’ to protest.
That, she said, means they have direct pipelines into those groups to be able to both monitor their plans as well as caution them against certain actions.
Williams sidestepped a direct question on whether her agency would keep opposing sides apart, avoiding avoid the error that resulted in clashes in Virginia when white supremacists who had rallied there came face-to-face with counter protesters. But she strongly hinted that would be the case.
“Let me answer it this way: When you’ve seen other rallies, if you will, before, you’ve never seen that type of going together type of environment,’’ she said. And if nothing else, Williams said a buffer zone makes sense for other reasons.
“We plan on creating a situation where people are allowed to exercise their First Amendment rights while still providing access and options for public safety to get in and to people
The plans come as Gov. Doug Ducey on Monday opted to stay away from what is clearly a political versus an official presidential event.
There have been hints from the president he might use today’s rally to issue a pardon to former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. He was found guilty in federal court of criminal contempt for ignoring a judge’s orders on enforcing federal immigration laws and could face up to six months in jail.
Trump also has telegraphed he may endorse former state Sen. Kelli Ward who hopes to oust incumbent U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake in next year’s Republican primary.
But gubernatorial press aide Daniel Scarpinato said that Ducey, who will formally greet Trump at the airport, has a different priority: “working with law enforcement toward a safe event in downtown Phoenix for all those involved and in the area.’’
And that, said Scarpinato, means the governor being somewhere other than the Phoenix Convention Center.
Trump has been to Phoenix before, albeit as the Republican nominee for president. And while there were some demonstrations outside, there were no incidents.
But the violent clashes in Charlottesville, coupled with promises by some attending today’s event to be armed, have rattled nerves.
Arizona has some of the most liberal gun laws in the nation. Adults can carry handguns and rifle in the open as well as have concealed weapons, with no requirement for a permit.
Williams said there are no plans for restrictions of those in the streets, though she said the convention center itself has rules prohibiting firearms.
Mayor Greg Stanton said he is convinced there are sufficient resources, including staff, to deal with having tens of thousands of people downtown.
“To those attending the rally and to those outside, we want to give you every opportunity to express your First Amendment rights, no matter what your opinion happens to be,’’ he said. “However, as mayor of the city of Phoenix, I am expecting you to be civil, respectful and peaceful.’’
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery expressed the other side of the coin. He said the limits of free speech ends “when violence is used to communicate a message.’’
“If any group or individual resorts to violence against fellow citizens or assaults members of our law enforcement community or destroys any property, prosecutors will be ready to use all applicable laws to hold people accountable for their actions,’’ he said.
“It does not matter which group or creed you affiliate with,’’ Montgomery continued. “If you engage in violence you will be subject to arrest and prosecution.’’
The possibility of things getting out of hand has Frank Milstead, director of the state Department of Public Safety, to having intelligence about what’s going on coordinated at the Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center.
But Stanton made it clear that, everything else being equal, he wished that Trump would not be coming for a campaign-style rally -- at least not now on the heels of Charlottesville. And then there’s Trump’s hint he might use the rally to pardon Arpaio.
“I thought that any action like that would inflame passions and potentially make the situation more dangerous,’’ the mayor said.