Arizona Leaders, Elected Officials Discuss Systemic Racism In Policing

Published: Tuesday, June 23, 2020 - 4:17pm
Updated: Wednesday, June 24, 2020 - 11:45am

Tuesday forum by the HeroZona Foundation, a local nonprofit group, focused on discrimination and systemic racism within law enforcement and the community at-large. The panel was made up of Maricopa County elected officials and community leaders who shared their thoughts on challenges within the community and next steps. 

Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates told the audience that he's heard many stories of discrimination and systemic racism throughout his career, but he said seeing the video of George Floyd's final moments changed the way he viewed those stories. One story that stood out in particular was a 2010 police altercation when a Black Phoenix city official, Michael Johnson, was pushed to the ground and handcuffed by a white officer for intervening when his neighbor's house caught fire. 

→ Arizona Voices: Race, Diversity And The Black Lives Matter Movement

“Michael Johnson, a veteran of the Phoenix Police Department and a long-serving Phoenix city councilman, laid on the ground and for what? Being Black?" Gates asked. "We cannot refuse to hear and we cannot refuse to take action."

Warren Stewart Sr., a senior pastor of the First Institutional Baptist Church, said more white government officials need to speak up like Gates and acknowledge that racism is a real problem that needs to be eradicated.

"You gave me hope to be a white elected government official with an ‘R’ behind your name, and I hope you would say what you said not just in here, but wherever you go," Stewart said. 

The discussion also included views on local and national calls to ban chokehold tactics in law enforcement.

The Phoenix Police Department implemented such a ban earlier this month. 

Scottsdale Police Chief Alan Rodbell weighed in on the issue. 

“You should never choke. Not a question. But the issue of taking away the ability of officers to control the situation by absolutes, I think will cause a problem for us in the long run," he said. 

Rodbell also invited the community to hold officers accountable to ensure that the actions that they take are for the right reasons.

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