Recycled film clips playing on CNN and Fox News might lead viewers outside of downtown Phoenix to believe the state Capitol has been under siege the previous two weeks by people protesting the signing of a controversial illegal immigration enforcement measure.
But that isn’t actually the case, according to Cmdr. Andrew Staubitz, acting chief of Arizona State Capitol Police.
“It’s a very emotional and volatile situation out there,” said Staubitz. “The peace has been kept; there have been very few incidents and the incidents that have happened have been quickly controlled. We’re just hoping that it will continue.”
In addition to the Capitol Police force, officers from the Arizona Department of Public Safety and Phoenix Police Department have maintained a presence around the Capitol every day since April 20. Staubitz is pleased with how the officers have handled the events.
“The training these officers have received and their professional response has been outstanding so far. We can’t foresee what people are going to do, but we’ll respond appropriately if there are problems out here,” he said.
People began assembling around the state Capitol after the Legislature approved S1070 on April 19. On April 20, nine protesters were arrested after chaining themselves to the doors of the historic Capitol building, and refusing to leave or communicate with police.
Staubitz called April 23 — the day Gov. Jan Brewer signed the controversial bill into law — as the first “contentious” day. Two arrests were made for aggravated assault on a police officer, after protesters threw water bottles, one of which struck an officer in the head. Three other arrests were made for disorderly conduct by Capitol and Phoenix police. He estimated the crowd at 1,500 people.
On April 24, an estimated 300 protesters were at the Capitol. There were no arrests, but criminal damage estimated at $700 was discovered in the men’s restrooms in the Senate and House.
The largest crowd to date, estimated at 2,500 protesters, turned out around the Capitol on April 25, according to Staubitz, but no incidents were reported and no arrests were made.
Vandalism was reported to the Capitol Police at 6:25 a.m. on April 26. Unknown individuals smeared refried beans in the shape of swastikas on the doors of the House and Senate buildings and wrote “AZ=Nazi” on the ground with the beans as well, with a swastika representing the word “Nazi.”
Staubitz said people who are considering coming to the Capitol area to protest do so in a responsible manner, so as to not have their protest message overshadowed.
“We’re encouraging people, if they do come out, to voice their opinions in a peaceful manner,” said Staubitz. “Hopefully, their message will get out instead of negative press and negative opinions about their behavior.”