PHOENIX — Phoenix Police Chief Joe Yahner said he is proud of the professionalism displayed by his officers during a large police shootings protest on Friday night.
“I’m very proud of the police department and our actions on Friday night,” he told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Mac & Gaydos on Monday. “That was a long, hot day. Most of those police officers had worked all day and worked until well after midnight in very adverse conditions.”
The Phoenix protest began about 8 p.m. at City Hall, located near Third Avenue and Washington Street. As many as 1,000 protesters were in attendance and things were calm, until a plan was made to block traffic on Interstate 10.
“Up until that point, we hadn’t made any arrests,” Yahner said. “It was a peaceable march and we wanted it to stay peaceable.”
Yahner met with the Rev. Jarrett Maupin, who organized the protest, about 30 minutes after learning of the plot.
“I wasn’t negotiating. I was basically setting the expectations of what was going to occur,” he said, adding that it made it clear that protesters would not be allowed to access the highway because it would pose “a huge safety issue.”
The marchers were halted at Seventh and Roosevelt streets, just south of I-10. After police formed a line, there was a tense standoff that dissipated over time. However, a few protesters threw objects at officers and police retaliated with pepper balls, pepper spray and tear gas.
“I really appreciate that hard work of the police officers who were out there on the front line,” Yahner. “Ultimately, several of them took some rocks and bottles, but we all ended up going home safely.”
Three people were arrested during the protest and six were injured.
The protest focused on two recent fatal shootings of African-American men in Minnesota and Louisiana.
Yahner said that, while he feels Phoenix has done a good job of better preparing officers to handle interactions, the nation as a whole could improve.
“Does policing across the nation need to improve in that? Yeah, we probably do because there’s an unhappy segment of our community and we need to make sure we’re serving all of our community as best as we can,” he said.
He also said he doesn’t feel groups such as Black Lives Matter — which was not part of Friday’s protest — paint a target on police officers’ backs.
“The Black Lives members that I have talked to are very nice. They have an issue, I try to work through that issue with them,” the chief said, adding that he engages the group in frequent discussion.
Though he does not know of any further protests being planned, Yahner promised officers would be present to protect everyone’s rights.
“If people want to march and make a statement, we’ll certainly be there to help protect those First Amendment rights, but we just want everybody to be safe and abide by the law,” he said.
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