Tempers flared on Tuesday at a community meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, where angry residents confronted city leaders over police officers’ violent response to a shoplifting incident involving a couple and their two young children.
An estimated 2,650 people packed the pews and halls of Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church in Phoenix for the evening meeting to discuss the harrowing ordeal, local station CBS 5 reported. Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and Police Chief Jeri Williams also attended the meeting, where they were drowned out by deafening boos and calls for increased transparency.
The pair was also joined by City Council members Carlos Garcia and Michael Nowakowski, City Manager Ed Zuercher, Assistant City Manager Milton Dohoney, and Executive Assistant Police Chief Michael Kurtenbach.
“I’m deeply sorry for the events that brought us here today,” the mayor told residents at the start of the hours-long meeting. “I asked for this community meeting [and] Chief Williams’ presence so we would have a chance to listen to your thoughts.”
Both Gallego and Williams have apologized for the incident in which a pair of Phoenix officers were filmed pointing their guns and yelling obscenities at a Black couple whose 4-year-old daughter had taken a doll from a Family Dollar store last month without anyone paying for it.
The couple, Dravon Ames and Iesha Harper, said they were unaware their daughter had taken the doll.
Things got heated at Tuesday’s meeting as several residents, many whose loved ones have died at the hands of Phoenix police, voiced their frustrations over the department’s lack of transparency in the killings. Roland Harris, whose son Jacob Harris was gunned down by an officer in January, was among those who took their anger straight to Williams and Gallego.
“The chief wants to talk about transparency? We had to sue you to get his police report,” Harris said, according to The Phoenix New Times. “I got his police report today, and it’s inconsistent with the autopsy I got.”
“David Norman, your officer — my son was the third victim of that police officer, do you understand that, Chief? He killed three people before my son!” Harris carried on, drawing raucous applause from the crowd. “I do not understand how you allow him to still be on patrol.”
Twelve-year-old resident Savannah Taylor also took the mic and decried the “sickening” behavior of the officers.
“What [those police officers] did was wrong and can never be justified by anyone,” Taylor said through tears. “I’m shaking right now. Something has to be done so this never happens again.”
The Phoenix Police Department came under fire last week after bystander video showed officers assaulting a handcuffed Ames, 22, while another cop pulled his gun on Ames’ pregnant fiancée and their two daughters. The May 27 incident unfolded at a nearby apartment complex as officers responded to reports of a theft.
Video of the encounter, recorded by a concerned neighbor, has been viewed thousands of times, garnering national outrage.
Last Thursday, the family filed a notice of claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, against the city for $10 million. The claim accuses officers of engaging in police brutality, wrongful imprisonment and civil rights violations in the incident.
“Nobody should ever try to justify what happened in the video. Nobody!” said Ames as he stood with Harper and their daughter, the family greeted with a standing ovation. “That’s insulting and that hurts. That hurts for our family. That hurts all of us.
“Mass murderers get walked out without a scratch,” Ames continued, garnering applause.
Cradling her 1-year-old child in her arms, Harper demanded justice for her family and called on the department to fire the officers involved.
Before the meeting concluded, police Chief Williams took a moment to address the crowd of angry residents. She assured them that she was listening and processing their concerns, but her kumbayah moment quickly went left.
“You guys aren’t going to like what I’m going to say,” Williams began before adding: “Real change doesn’t start with our police department. Real change starts with our community.”
Her suggestion that it’s the community, not police, that needed to change sparked a torrent of boos from the audience and even prompted some residents to storm out of the building, according to the Arizona Republic. Williams attempted to clarify her statements by saying the police department is a part of the community, but it was too late.
“You don’t have to believe me,” Williams continued. “But the proof will be in the pudding.”
City leaders said they plan to hold another meeting in 30 days.
Watch more in the video below.