Curfew, rumors stoke fear and confusion in Southwest Valley after violent protests in Phoenix/Scottsdale

Peaceful protest held Sunday in Litchfield Park

By Kelly O'Sullivan, Independent Newsmedia
Posted 5/31/20

Confusion and fear were rampant Sunday, May 31 when Southwest Valley cities and police departments began sharing information about Gov. Doug Ducey’s decision to impose a statewide curfew in the …

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Curfew, rumors stoke fear and confusion in Southwest Valley after violent protests in Phoenix/Scottsdale

Peaceful protest held Sunday in Litchfield Park

Posted

Confusion and fear were rampant Sunday, May 31 when Southwest Valley cities and police departments began sharing information about Gov. Doug Ducey’s decision to impose a statewide curfew in the wake of weekend protests in Phoenix and Scottsdale that turned violent and resulted in hundreds of arrests and millions of dollars in damage to businesses and public buildings.

The 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. curfew went into effect Sunday evening and will remain in place until Monday, June 8.

Some people were angry about the curfew and others applauded it, while still others asked whether they would be detained driving to and from work.

Rumors about violent protests targeting businesses and neighborhoods in Buckeye, Goodyear and Litchfield Park also spread like wildfire, though none materialized.

Litchfield Park City Manager Bill Stephens stated in an email Monday that a small group of protestors assembled at Goodyear Community Park on Litchfield Road just south of Indian School Road for a planned protest around 6 p.m.

“They protested in the park and then some went across the street into the Safeway parking lot to protest some more,” before heading to Old Litchfield Road into Litchfield Park, he stated.

“They walked up Old Litchfield Road through the middle of the city and into the residential neighborhood. By the time they reached the end of Old Litchfield Road at Bird Lane, it was very near 8 p.m., so they dispersed,” Mr. Stephens stated. “[Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office] was present the entire time and monitored their activity. The entire event was peaceful and no problems were encountered.”

Another was planned for Monday evening, he stated.

Social media posts claiming businesses in Goodyear in Buckeye were being targeted for looting, comments on city and police department Facebook posts, and tips shared through Facebook Messenger kept social media staff busy Sunday night.

“Does this mean we can’t congregate or go to gas stations, etc? What about runners/walkers in our own neighborhoods?” Nicole Sioni asked on a city of Goodyear post announcing city parks and amenities will close 7:45 p.m. each day while the curfew is in effect. “This is very vague.”

“This is stupid! Some people work nights, what does it mean for their jobs, what does this mean for businesses that are already struggling from pandemic; this is vague ... no leadership here,” Wendy Bingham wrote.

“This is a good thing. Not stupid,” Joanne Nixon replied. “It is meant to protect good people and keep those with bad intentions off the streets.”

Over and over again, city social media staff responded to questions by sharing a link to the declaration and posting that “Exceptions include going to/from work, religious services, getting food, caring for someone else, getting medical help, driving to any of these places.”

The same scenario occurred on Goodyear Police Department’s post on the curfew, with GPD social media staff and residents clarifying details. GPD serves the city of Litchfield Park in addition to Goodyear.

GPD Public Information Officer Lisa Berry told Independent Newsmedia in an email Sunday evening the department will not stop every vehicle out after 8 p.m.

“We will be pulling over vehicles only as necessary on a case-bycase basis. Certainly, those who are out and about on foot and loitering in places they don’t belong or in a suspicious manner or unlawful assembly, will be addressed. The homeless will not be penalized for being homeless,” she wrote. “The Goodyear Police Department is prepared, aware of and monitoring threats. We are working together with law enforcement agencies across the valley to ensure public safety.”

On Monday, Ms. Berry said staff monitored threats and social media posts throughout the night.

“I was actively on our social platforms and responded to several private messages we received as tips. We want people to advise us of threats they see and certainly report anything that appears suspicious,” she stated. “In general, we ask people to not report crimes on social media as it is not monitored 24/7. Last night was an exception to that with the new curfew order just coming out. The public can continue to send social media concerns to our private Facebook message inbox so that we are aware or call the non-emergency line at 623-932-1220 to report. All other crimes should be reported by calling the non-emergency line or 911 if it is an emergency or crime in progress.”

The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department, which serves unincorporated Litchfield Park, posted a message by Sheriff Paul Penzone.

“I want all of you to know that our office and deputies are doing everything possible to mitigate the potential danger to people and property during this period of unrest. We are invested in your safety,” he wrote. “This being said, our great county covers over 9,000 square miles and our staff are doing everything possible to work with public safety partners to suppress criminal looting and keep people safe who are at the center of dangerous unrest. Additionally, we are dealing with a major fire in the Cave Creek area which consumes a significant amount of law enforcement resources. I ask that you be vigilant to mitigate the threats to yourselves, personal property and any members of a vulnerable population. Please be alert and do not hesitate to call law enforcement if they are needed.”

The Buckeye Police Department posted a graphic letting residents know that while the city wasn’t experiencing any disturbances and “we have no information or intel that our city will be the target of any protests” it had additional personnel on duty and was asking residents to comply with the curfew.

When a resident shared, “Not wanting to scare people and not sure how credible this is but my daughter saw something on SnapChat that Verrado is being targeted tonight,” others responded that it wasn’t credible.

“Oldest tactic in the book,” Stephanie Crawford wrote. “Fear mongering ... it’s what they do,” Jan Callahan added.

Donna Rossi, BPD’s public information officer, said via email Monday the department’s infographic was shared 152 times and received 218 comments.

“People are understandably confused and scared. Rumors spread like wildfire on social media and it is important that the community get accurate, timely and transparent information from the Buckeye Police Department itself,” Ms. Rossi stated. “Social media, in the eye of the Buckeye Police Department, is not a one-way street. When we learned there were rumors circulating on social media about protestors on their way to Buckeye we put out messaging that we had absolutely no indication or credible intelligence of that being the case. When posts started popping up of people claiming folks were looting at the local Walmart, we responded with the accurate information that there was no looting or criminal damage going on in Buckeye.”

Buckeye Police Chief Larry Hall has been and will be in continuous communication with Arizona Department of Public Safety, the statewide Emergency Operations Center, all cities in the Phoenix-metro area, the mayor, City Council and city manager’s office to provide consistent information department employees and the media.

“That information, when relevant is then passed on to our community,” she stated.

“If anyone [in Buckeye] has concerns for their safety, or the safety of others or sees something that just does not look right, we ask them to call 911,” Ms. Rossi sated. “The public are additional eyes and ears and can support the police department by being observant and staying vigilant.”

What’s behind the unrest

Protests against police brutality were sparked across the country after gruesome videos showing the May 25 death of George Floyd, a black man accused of using a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes at a Minneapolis deli, began circulating on social media. The videos show the 46-year-old handcuffed and lying on the ground repeatedly saying, “I can’t breathe,” as four police officers kneel on him until he stops breathing.

All four officers involved were fired the day after the incident. Derek Chauvin, the white officer whose knee was on Mr. Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 minutes, was arrested May 30 and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The other three officers remained under investigation June 1.

While the Phoenix and Scottsdale protests as well as those in numerous cities across the country including Los Angeles, New York, Philadephia, Chicago and outside the White House in Washington, D.C., turned violent, many protests have remained peaceful, according to news reports.

In some cities like Santa Cruz, California, police and city officials joined in the protests, according to news reports.

A photo of Santa Cruz Mayor Justin Cummings and Chief of Police Andy Mills taking a knee beside hundreds of protestors circulated widely online after SCPD shared it in a tweet that read, “SCPD is fully supportive of peaceful protests @CityofSantaCruz and we always keep them safe.”

In Camden, New Jersey, officers marched with protestors while Norfolk, Virginia, Police Chief Larry Boone carried a sign reading, “Black Lives Matter,” when he joined a protest in his city, and in Genesee County, Michigan, Sheriff Chris Swanson took off his helmet and laid it on the ground next his baton as protestors cheered.

Kelly O’Sullivan can be reached at kosullivan@newszap.com or 760-963-1697. For up-to-date local reporting on all things COVID-19, Independent Newsmedia has created a webpage dedicated to coverage of the novel coronavirus: #AZNEWSMEDIA

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