As President Trump’s planned return nears, Phoenix is still grappling with litigation and accusations of police misconduct stemming from his 2017 visit that sparked violence between cops and protesters.
Trump will headline a campaign rally in Mesa on Friday as part of a push to motivate Arizona Republicans ahead of the Nov. 6 election.
While Trump’s rallies tend to draw large crowds of supporters and protesters, the president’s Friday rally is unlikely to be a repeat of last year’s chaos because the event, which will occur at the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, is less accessible than the streets of downtown Phoenix.
The president was last here on August 22, 2017. Largely peaceful protests outside of his rally at the Phoenix Convention Center devolved into chaos as Phoenix police officers began to disperse the crowds with tear gas and pepper balls.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona immediately criticized the officers’ actions, accusing them of excessive force in response to a few protestors throwing things like water bottles and rocks.
The ACLU filed a class-action lawsuit in September of this year against the city of Phoenix, Chief of Police Jeri Williams and officers allegedly involved that night, claiming law enforcement violated protesters’ rights.
The Phoenix Police Department disputed the characterization that its officers were too aggressive.
Trump’s 2017 rally cost the city of Phoenix approximately $630,000 — largely due to overtime costs for public safety workers. The city had 985 public safety employees working the event, said Julie Watters, city spokeswoman.
Approximately 15,000 people turned out for the event with about 10,000 inside the convention center and about 5,000 people outside.
But ACLU Legal Director Kathy Brody said she hopes the Mesa Police Department learns from the events that unfolded last year and better protects everyone in attendance on Friday.
“People being able to express their views regardless of how extreme they might be is one principle that we feel very, very strongly about,” she said. “And it is important that people are able to get out there and express their views if they want to and, most importantly, to be able to do so safely.”
She said the divisiveness that may become apparent at a Trump rally is already there, and opposing sides should be able to communicate without putting anyone in danger.
Last year, she said the issue was not caused by one side attacking the other but by the police.
Brody has been thinking a lot about how Mesa might respond this time, hoping the end result is better for everyone. But she said the location and context around Friday’s visit is very different from the 2017 rally.
She said the Mesa location is less conducive to large crowds, whereas last year’s rally happened in the heart of downtown Phoenix.
While Trump rallies are often heated, his 2017 rally in downtown Phoenix was especially spirited because of recent events.
The rally occurred shortly after an alt-right rally in Charlottesville that turned deadly. People feared a similar incident could occur in Phoenix, Brody said.
There was also tension stemming from the possible pardon of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, which had been hinted at for days leading up to Trump’s visit.
People still likely have strong feelings about Trump one way or the other, but Brody said the political environment is less heated this go-round,
The ACLU did not have any specific plans for the night of the rally as of earlier this week, Brody said. She also did not anticipate an effort to organize a group of volunteer attorneys to be on-hand should protesters get into legal trouble.
Last year, dozens of attorneys were on call to defend anyone charged with a crime as a result of the rally. Four arrests were made that night, one on an unrelated warrant.
Brody also said the ACLU made calls to the city of Phoenix and police ahead of last year’s rally, but had not made a similar call to the Mesa Police Department to discuss any concerns before Friday.
Mesa’s plans for the rally were not abundantly clear early in the week, and a spokesman for the police department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.