As the community continues to reel from social and political unrest turning Scottsdale Road into chaos Saturday night, business leaders look for answers and city officials condemn the activity that saw 12 arrested and millions of dollars of damage to Old Town businesses.
Protests broke out across the nation --- including Scottsdale --- during the last week of May in response to Minneapolis citizen George Floyd dying while in police custody.
Hundreds of people descended upon Scottsdale Fashion Square and surrounding areas on Saturday, May 30, outnumbering police officials, and looting several local businesses. As this unfolded on live TV and social media streams, local business leaders say they were forced to defend their own storefronts overnight.
Sunday morning, gym-owner and Scottsdale City Council candidate Bill Crawford called for a press conference to condemn the police response to the violent and dangerous actions.
Flanked by several other business owners, Mr. Crawford says the police department should have done more --- stating law enforcement officials observed as Scottsdale businesses were damaged.
“This is something we have to fight because we can’t tolerate it,” Mr. Crawford said.
“Last night we felt we were caught off guard; we felt we were a little under-protected and things got out of hand. We’re asking the government protect us, asking all resources are put into place so this cannot, and will not happen again. It was totally unacceptable.”
Just two hours later, Scottsdale Police Chief Alan Rodbell and Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane stood in front of Valley media to provide their own press conference, giving insight into their tactics to control the crowd --- whom they described as people taking advantage of the situation, not peaceful protesters.
“This is the first time I’ve ever experienced anything quite like I’ve experienced last night,” Mr. Rodbell said. “Whereas I appreciate there’s maybe some feeling that this somehow associated with what may have occurred in another state, that’s absolutely unconscionable, unforgivable. There’s no way to explain a way or justify what happened in Minnesota. All of law enforcement is appalled by what happened on that street. But last night was something entirely different. Last night wasn’t about protests, although there were some signs, very few; although there was some graffiti, not much, but some graffiti, it was clearly these people came down here to destroy property and steal. It’s as simple as that.”
Even with the help of other Valley agencies, Mr. Rodbell says it would have taken double the amount of law enforcement to control the crowd. Protecting people’s lives was priority No. 1, officials said, and their course of action was to keep the protest from spilling into neighborhoods.
For the time being, Scottsdale Fashion Square is closed. Macerich, the owners of the luxury mall, released this statement on the mall’s website: “Our hearts are broken for our community. At this time Scottsdale Fashion Square is closed. We’ll get through this together and we look forward to seeing you soon.”
Scottsdale police say 12 people were arrested Saturday night; only one was a juvenile. They are:
In the light of day following the protest, Scottsdale’s downtown mecca showcased an odd juxtaposition --- while businesses here and there had boarded up windows from being broken, and a full section of Scottsdale Road was closed, Sunday brunch was in full-swing.
The night before, hundreds of people were running down Scottsdale Road, stomping out glass windows while police used chemical agents to clear the area. Groups of citizen militia armed with automatic rifles were protecting storefronts.
But just hours later, Old Town appeared to have full restaurants, with lines out the door, and Fifth Avenue was full of parked cars and leisurely shoppers.
Just down the road, the owners of these storefronts were gathered together, angry and hurt by what occurred 15 hours earlier.
Mr. Crawford and others hosted the press conference in the parking lot behind Sprinkles Cupcakes --- a small strip mall that includes a handful of shops and a Chipotle restaurant. Several of these shops were looted.
Mr. Crawford vowed the events that occurred to businesses and the community cannot be tolerated, and will not happen again. Pointing to the massive revenue Scottsdale Fashion Square produces for the city, Mr. Crawford called the facility the “diamond of Arizona.”
“Some businesses were vandalized, broken into --- some will be closed for a while. We are just so upset by this,” Mr. Crawford said.
Mr. Crawford has a background in law enforcement, and following the protests, he says he’s thankful for his Second Amendment right.
“Last night, one of my neighbors and I stood in front of our property with firearms and protected our boundaries until 4, 4:30 this morning,” he said.
“I want to thank my neighbor for helping me. If we hadn’t done that, there’s a possibility that complex would have been burned to the ground. There’s others that had to do this themselves last night, had to stand in front of their businesses with firearms to protect their businesses so they wouldn’t get destroyed, looted or burned to the ground.”
Mr. Crawford called for added law enforcement resources.
“We’re asking that our local government step up and protect us, that’s all we’re asking. We’re not criticizing, we’re asking that if they don’t have the resources or if their hands are tied, to let them do what they need to do. They don’t need any ideas, these are highly trained law enforcement people, they know what to do, let them do it,” Mr. Crawford said.
Janet Floyd Wilson, who owns property along Fifth Avenue and around the Old Town, advised her tenants to take valuable merchandise and equipment out of the store. She has 44 tenants.
“That’s how bad it is --- we’re scared, we’re absolutely scared,” Ms. Wilson said.
Pointing to the proprietors standing behind her in support, she says following closures due to COVID-19, the riot is devastating.
“This could put so many property owners out of business, and that can’t happen. It’s just a sad thing,” Ms. Wilson said.
According to Ms. Wilson, there were people armed with firearms protecting Fifth Avenue as well, keeping the protest from spreading down the beloved street.
“It saved Fifth Avenue last night, I truly believe that,” she said. “They made a stand and scared them off. They had to. I mean, you have to protect your property.”
Scottsdale’s police officials say those who were a part of the protest were wearing gas masks, and came prepared to engage with the police department.
Assistant Chief of Police Scott Popp says the local department and Macerich began talking around 2 p.m. on Saturday, having a discussion about what was happening locally and across the nation, looking to see what their contingency plans were should unrest occur.
Macerich made the decision to close the mall, and offered to sign a trespass notice, so anyone on their property was subject to trespassing after the mall closed.
After that conversation, the police department received a screenshot of a Tweet, which was sent to the department from a former intern, talking about protesting and rioting at Dicks Sporting Goods at Fashion Square. From that time, the department ramped up their response.
The department’s initial response was to send a field force contingent down to Fashion Square; their first contact with a group of about 40 people was roughly 9:30 p.m. at the sporting goods store, Mr. Popp said.
The Scottsdale police department was anticipating about 53 people showing up, which was vastly underestimated. The department responded with roughly 83 officers initially --- as the crowd grew, other east Valley agencies were called to help. At the end, there were 250 law enforcement officers on the scene.
“If we were able to totally control Fashion Square we’d have needed double that,” Mr. Popp said. “Obviously you can see by the day-after math that it turned violent. The protesters, or rioters, did come with rocks, chunks of concrete. I had several officers who had concrete and rocks thrown at them. A lot of people who showed up were wearing gas masks; they came with milk in spray bottles; water; they were fully prepared to engage us.”
Some of the rioters were armed with automatic rifles. There was also a group dressed in dark clothing with body armer carrying automatic rifles that the police were initially unsure if they were there to help or as a part of the riot.
As the group was moved off the mall property, people splintered into the downtown area.
“We had our downtown group dealing with a confrontation between rioters and militia personnel; it took us until about 5 o’clock this morning to get this whole area under control,” Mr. Popp said.
During the city’s press conference, Mayor Jim Lane called to stand up against racism, and those who would call for destruction of the community.
“To the best of our understanding, the agitators of the groups who put this together really have no local connection with it. I’ve spoken with our African American leadership and they’ve assured --- at least assured from those that I’ve spoken to --- that there’s no connection with what has happened here and their feelings about the City of Scottsdale,” Mr. Lane said, reading from a prepared statement.
Mr. Lane says he thinks the governor’s week-long curfew was a good step; the two political leaders spoke Saturday night, around midnight, about utilizing the National Guard.
“One thing about this is that we are undoubtedly going to be refining our techniques as both the chief and deputy chief have indicated. That is something that is in process,” Mr. lane said. “But the numbers of folks that you’re going to have to deploy; because these attacks --- which is really, essentially just that. There was no formal protest anywhere during the course of this. There may have been some people who intended to. But essentially we had a number of people who were trying to agitate to it.”
In response to media questions, Mr. Lane says he has spoken with some business owners, but he wasn’t downtown so he couldn’t speak to the situation the proprietors described of being left to fend for themselves.
“I do know and have talked to some of them. I know, essentially out of fear, they took their own precautions on their own property, which is something we certainly are concerned about when that interaction starts to begin as well. That’s another dangerous element,” he said.
“I think the confinement in the area might have not made them visible,” he said of the police attacks taken to perimeter the downtown area to keep people out of the neighborhoods.
Mr. Lane says the response from the city’s police department always has room for improvement.
“Some of the reporting that indicated the presence wasn’t there --- but it was a specific strategy to protect the general residential population from these groups as they were setting off to potentially go off into the neighborhoods, so there was an effort to contain them in the area,” Mr. Lane said, noting that the number of arrests is distressing.
“The overall idea as I understand it, our function is to protect our citizens, not to protect protesters. Peaceful protesters we’re not looking to harm, but certainly not to protect agitators who are wish harm upon our citizens and our property within the City of Scottsdale. So that really was part of that strategy. I can’t speak to how every agency might have addressed that, or how they might have defined that or seen that in the activity. I’m certainly behind the effort of protecting our neighborhoods from groups that may have ended up running and marauding through neighborhoods. In that sense I’m satisfied. Can we refine it? Always. Is there always a perfect way to address these things? No. It’s all new business really for most everybody on the police force and certainly for myself.”