As millions of people around the world are stepping up to support this summer’s civil rights movement, Arizona luminaries have joined together to talk about the issues close to home.
Since George Floyd was killed in late May, the United States has been in the midst of a 21st Century civil rights movement --- in association with the Black Lives Matter movement --- that has been brewing as year after year, more stories and video footage of black citizens killed by police brutality arise.
Earlier this summer, the Black Lives Matter protests peaked when half a million people turned out in nearly 550 places across the country on one single day.
The New York Times has cited poll results suggesting 15 million to 26 million people in the United States have participated in demonstrations over Mr. Floyd and others’ deaths in recent weeks. The Times states, the poll figures would make the protests the largest movement in the country’s history. In Scottsdale, these protests were overshadowed by looting that turned violent and resulted in millions of dollars worth of damage due to looting.
Paradise Valley also received its own taste of a protest in July, when a small group of people marched through traffic on Lincoln Drive.
On July 14, a forum comprised of two panels, one on community and the other on policing, was held and streamed live featuring Scottsdale, Paradise Valley and Arizona figureheads.
The event was moderated by Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, who has been arrested 46 times throughout this life.
“We can, in fact, make a contribution to what happens today and tomorrow in light of the past,” Dr. Chavis said. “This is a collective discussion we all need to have beyond today. If we’re going to improve police and community relations, in this community, it’s going to require all of us not only to participate and have a dialogue and discussion together, but to work together.”
Presented by Scottsdale-based HeroZona Foundation, the 10th annual Bridge Forum included Arizona House member and Paradise Valley resident, Aaron Lieberman, and Scottsdale Chief of Police, Alan Rodbell. The other participants were:
Steve Chucri, Maricopa County Supervisor for District 2, was among one of the invited special guests. About halfway through the event, it was announced that Mr. Chucri had volunteered to lead a task force of county supervisors to move this conversation forward.
“Don’t think that this is just a Scottsdale problem; don’t think this is an Arizona problem, or an American problem. It’s a global problem. But because we’re in Scottsdale, we’re in Arizona, we’re in America --- because of the flag we just pledged to --- we’ve got some responsibilities,” Dr. Chavis said.
“We’ve got to raise up a young generation of brothers and sisters who should not have to fear because of the color of their skin, or because of their background, their religion, or how they’re dressed, that they will become a victim of circumstances beyond their control. That’s why we’re having this discussion.”
Topics discussed throughout the forum included how the most recent movement is garnering more attention than protests in years past; the use and power of social media; systemic racism; police techniques; body cameras; and the effects of legislation.
Mr. Grisby, chief special agent of the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, illustrated today’s situation as a “crisis for change.”
“I’m worried about the attitude I see from officers that is manifested in their social media, that has manifested in their private conversations,” Mr. Grisby pointed out.
“Because when you’re a public servant everything you say is on the record, I feel, on duty or off duty. If we can get some legislation that holds officers to account for that, I think that if we could all agree there are problems, and there has to be some third-party oversight. The way we’re going now, we’re at a crisis for public trust. It calls for change now. Not tomorrow, not next week, but now.”
Scottsdale’s Chief of Police, Mr. Rodbell, has been a participant in eight of the 10 Bridge Forums.
According to participants, after a previous year’s event, a handful of strategic initiatives were implemented for engaging the community.
Dr. Chavis also publicly lauded Mr. Rodbell for his actions stating if all departments were led by people like Rodbell, the country would be in a better situation.
Dr. Chavis first asked Mr. Rodbell what single law enforcement policy change would make the most positive difference for communities of color.
“I think so much of it is important in terms of just relationships,” Mr. Rodbell said. “I think that’s one of the things that we have developed here in Scottsdale is a relationship with the community, to listen to the community concerns and act on what we hear.”
Mr. Rodbell says he doesn’t believe law enforcement should outlaw certain actions, because you may be removing a safe, non-violent method by using a label.
“I would be very cautious to say, ‘just outlaw choke holds and we’ll be fine.’ I don’t really believe that,” Mr. Rodbell said.
“I believe we have to teach proper techniques, hold officers accountable, use them properly and at the right time. If you don’t do that, if you don’t train, you don’t prepare, you don’t practice, you don’t understand when it’s appropriate --- then you’ve gone too far.”
Mr. Rodbell says holding officers accountable is the most important thing fellow officers, government and the community can do.
“When you have that accountability, people think about the things while they’re doing it and they understand the consequences,” Mr. Rodbell said.
Going back to Dr. Chavis’ question, Mr. Rodbell says the most important aspects of a police department are to have rules and procedures in place. He also points to earning an accreditation, like colleges and hospitals are held to.
Scottsdale has been an accredited police department since the 1990s, Mr. Rodbell said.
“Those are things we can do to assure accountability in law enforcement, that’s the most important thing. Hold the police chief to be accountable as well,” he said.
Paradise Valley resident and Legislative District 28 representative, Mr. Lieberman, was asked about legislation that could work for police and citizens.
“Is it comprehensive reporting changes? Is it exhausting all other alternatives before shooting?” Dr. Chavis asked the local politician.
Mr. Lieberman is the father of two adopted African American boys.
“We have a very big problem right here in Arizona --- this isn’t some distant thing,” Mr. Lieberman said.
“For me, it’s quite personal --- just like any parent of a black child I’ve had the conversation about how you’re going to be seen when you’re out in the community, and how you need to act if law enforcement is involved. My greatest hope is they won’t have to have that conversation with my grandchildren.”
Mr. Lieberman says he doesn’t believe there’s been nearly enough action at the State Capitol. He explained that bills introduced, such as sensitivity training for police, have not received a hearing.
“We’re never going to have more momentum then we’re going to have right now,” Mr. Lieberman said of attempting to get political change to better regulate police action.
“George Floyd, somehow, I don’t know why --- something about George Floyd seemed to connect both that white audience and that African American audience that has always been outraged for hundreds of years. The only difference is now it’s on video tape that everyone can see. That is the difference that’s right now.”
Mr. Lieberman called for his Republic colleagues to vocally support Black Lives Matter, specifically calling on Gov. Doug Ducey to say those three words out loud.
“It’s really important right now for everyone to hear that this is not a partisan thing, and it should not be a partisan thing. I know plenty of Republicans, I don’t know a single one who thinks black people should be killed disproportionately to white people,” Mr. Lieberman said. “But what we need is for people to stand up and say this is about keeping everyone safe in Arizona right now. And there’s things we can do in four hours in a special session to move the state forward. We should absolutely stop talking and start doing.”