Nine Arizona State University students were arrested today as a crowd of about 100 people gathered at the Capitol to protest a polarizing anti-illegal-immigration bill, which is now just Gov. Jan Brewer’s signature away from becoming state law.
The sea of protesters went beyond carrying signs and beating drums to get their message across – some of them chained themselves to the door handles of the old Capitol building, blocking access to the public facility, according to the Capitol Police report.
“We wanted to know what their intentions were when we approached them,” said interim Capitol Police Chief Andrew Staubitz. “We said if this is a photo op and they want to get their photo taken and leave peaceably, we set a time limit of 10 minutes.”
Staubitz, who had all eight of his officers and supervisors on hand, plus 10 officers from the Department of Public Safety, said his department balances the rights of protesters to free speech with the need to maintain a safe environment.
“We support everyone having the ability to express their viewpoints, and we also support having a safe Capitol area where everyone can do that,” Staubitz said. “When people create an unsafe situation by blocking doors, then we have to take some action.”
Staubitz said he got the impression the protesters who had chained themselves to the doors wanted to get arrested. “They were told they would be arrested and booked into the county jail,” he said. “Their decision came very quickly, which was that they would not communicate with us at all.”
After Capitol Police used bolt cutters to free the protesters from the doors, they were arrested without incident.
Attorney Antonio Bustamante, who represents one of those arrested, told the Associated Press the students chose to chain themselves to the Capitol doors to “block the bigotry that was emanating from the Legislature” and send a message to Brewer.
As the arrested protestors were being loaded on a bus to go to jail, a group of people containing protestors and cameramen swarmed the area. “It wasn’t my impression that they were trying to stop the bus,” said Staubitz. “I think there were several people trying to get photographs of the people being loaded on to the bus.”
It is a truly rare event for the Capitol Police force to arrest protesters, said Staubitz. He can’t even recall a time in the previous 10 years that an organized group was arrested at the Capitol.
“We really don’t make a whole lot of arrests with protesters,” he said. “I can’t think of a time that we have arrested a group. With people chaining themselves to doors, it’s a fire hazard, and it is illegal to block entry to a public building. It’s a safety issue.”
Today is the second day in a row of demonstrations on the Capitol grounds regarding S1070, which passed the Senate yesterday along a nearly party-line vote. Sen. Carolyn Allen was the only Republican to vote against the measure.
The bill, if signed by the governor, would require local law enforcement officers to verify the legal status of anyone they suspect might be in the country illegally, and it would allow trespassing charges to be brought against all illegal immigrants.
The bill also would provide grounds for anyone to file a lawsuit against a local government that is not enforcing laws to prevent illegal immigration.
Gregorio Montes De Oca
Ruben Lucio Jr.
David Portugal Jr.