They carried signs and they were going to be heard.
The 30-or-so people who joined together Monday night on the sidewalk at John Wayne Parkway and West Edison Road, near the IHOP restaurant, chanted “No justice, no peace” to support the Black Lives Matter movement.
Earlier coverage: NAACP urges residents: Stay home from ‘protest’ tonight
The peaceful hour-long gathering, coming after days of protest and unrest in cities across the nation in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police, was boosted by dozens of vehicles and a Shamrock Farms tanker truck passing by, their occupants honking horns and screaming their support to the sidewalk.
One black sedan drove by with a BLM sign. A few minutes later, a pickup truck roared past, a Trump 2020 flag held out from the passenger window.
Many in the crowd, composed mostly of young men and women, screamed through face masks and held their handwritten signs high with vinyl gloves. Many declined to be interviewed by the media.
The signs read: “I cannot breathe,” “Count others more significant than yourselves” and “We the People Say Black Lives Matter.” One sign held by a woman had 18 names on it, all people of color who died in incidents with law enforcement, with the words “no conviction” next to each name.
Van Cooper Jr., 34, a Maricopa resident and special education teacher in Tempe, said he wanted to take part in a peaceful protest.
People need to spend less time on hatred, he said. But the problem with law enforcement’s treatment of African American men is real, he said.
“It’s been going on for years,” Cooper said, mentioning Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old African American shot to death in February 2012 by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida. “It’s sad that it takes a video for people to see what is going on.”
The protest started a couple minutes before 7 p.m., with police gathered 50 yards away in the IHOP parking lot. A half-hour later, Maricopa police Chief Steve Stahl walked out to join the crowd, saying hello to some, bumping elbows with others. At one point he joined City Councilmember Henry Wade Jr. and others in a symbolic gesture, getting down on one knee to remember the reason they were all there. Floyd died after a Minneapolis officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes. The scene was captured on video by a passerby.
“This is just a segment of Maricopa that wants to come out, be heard,” Stahl said. “It’s what I’m supposed to do, listen.”
Stahl said he had seen the video of Floyd’s arrest by four officers in the Minnesota capital, and disgust was in his voice.
“It is one of the more horrific acts of violence that I have ever seen, and I condemn what I saw,” he said shortly after the rally had broken up. “I’ve talked to our police officers in Maricopa, they feel the same way. This is not what law enforcement is representative of.”
One de facto leader, DJ Kali of Maricopa, a youth coordinator for the NAACP, said he attended to lend support and make sure everybody was safe. As darkness crept in, he thanked the crowd on the sidewalk for its support. “You don’t have to be black to love black,” he told them, before encouraging everybody to respect the 8 p.m. curfew.
The protesters left as they came – peacefully. They could be heard planning two gatherings on Tuesday – one on the same corner in the morning and another at City Hall in the evening for a City Council meeting.
Earlier in the day, the NAACP of Pinal County had urged residents not to participate in the event after a flyer began circulating on social media.
“The Pinal County NAACP has not been able to confirm that this is a legitimate gathering or whom the organizers are,” said the statement, signed by Constance Hunsberger Jackson, chapter president and city resident. “We have seen reports of nefarious characters of ill intent who seek to sow division during these troubling times all over the county. In an effort to keep our community safe we are asking people to stay home and not participate in this event.”