Donald Trump’s 2017 Phoenix Rally

dumb trump
(Jeff Burgess)

The biggest difference between President Donald Trump’s August 22 rally at the Phoenix Convention Center and the campaign rally he held there in the summer of 2015 was the number of anti-Trump protestors outside of the building.

I am proud to say that I participated in both protests, but was disappointed by the small size of the one at Trump’s 2015 rally. Looking back, I attribute it to a mistaken presumption that Trump had no realistic chance to win the 2016 presidential election. Also, the outdoor temperature that day was 106°F. The outdoor temperature at the recent rally was the same, but this time it didn’t stop thousands of people from showing up to voice their displeasure.

But even though we were there to protest, our overall spirit was joyful because of the camaraderie we felt from being with so many other Americans who also believed that Donald Trump’s presidency has been an unprecedented disaster for our country. There was almost a fun, carnival atmosphere, with lots of clever signs, inspiring music, and potent chants, like “Walk of Shame” directed at the people filing into the convention center to hear Trump speak. I especially enjoyed the guy who wandered through the crowd with a small amplifier slung over his shoulder broadcasting a recording of Trump saying, “Grab them by the pussy,” in an infinite loop. The giant inflatable figures of Trump and Joe Arpaio, wearing a KKK outfit and prison garb respectively, were pretty good too – and had obviously taken a lot of work to make.

trump phoenix protest 2017
Trump protest signs, Phoenix Convention Center, August 22, 2017 (Jeff Burgess)

The diversity among the anti-Trump protestors was a stark contrast to his supporters on the other side of the police line across the street. They were almost entirely white people – more than 99%. But the Trump protestors seemed to encompass almost every demographic in the U.S. The were, of course, many Latinos because of Trump’s support for Arpaio. I found the Native American protestors especially effective because they reminded everyone they have been subjected to oppression longer than any other group in America.

The news media made a lot out of the fact that a handful of troublemakers provoked the Phoenix police into unleashing tear gas and flash bang grenades on all of the remaining protestors near the end of the event. Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams defended her officers actions, but many of the people who were still protesting peacefully said the police overreacted and gave them no warnings.

I didn’t see what happened. I was in a nearby restaurant having an ice-cold beer by then because I couldn’t take the heat any longer – having been outside for more than an hour and a half. (It is difficult to describe how quickly the Sonoran Desert’s summer heat can debilitate you.) But I can say that 100% of the protestors I encountered were peaceful, and that’s the most important thing to remember about the protest.

Among the tiny minority in the crowd that weren’t joyful were four young white people, one with a very long hillbilly beard, that trailed each other through the crowd dressed in faux combat clothes, wearing armored vests and carrying AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifles across their chests. I wondered why they were carrying what I presumed to be loaded weapons, and I overheard other people wondering the same thing. The four of them had completely neutral expressions on their faces and didn’t look directly at anybody as they passed through. Who did they think they might have to shoot?

There was also a very small group of people dressed from head to foot in black, wearing helmets, dark sunglasses, and bandanas to hide their faces. They were standing still, at attention, in an ominously tight formation, and the rest of us looked upon them with suspicion and gave them space. I presumed they were an Antifa group. But if they were, I think it was odd that their black and red flag looked like the flag used by Ukrainian fascists.

Almost all of the Trump supporters across the street were in a line to enter the convention center. Some of them yelled back at us and gave us the finger as they slowly passed by on their way into the building, but most of them just watched us, seemingly surprised at the size and enthusiasm of our protest.

donald trump supporters
Trump supporters, Phoenix Convention Center, August 22, 2017 (Jeff Burgess)

But there was also a very small group of pro-Trump demonstrators gathered on the corner. They had some hateful signs and one fellow had a very loud electrically amplified megaphone. He used it to almost unceasingly shout insults at anti-Trump protestors. Some of the things he said were so awfully racist that people, including myself, gasped and asked the person next to them if he’d really just said what it sounded like he’d said. I noticed that one of the black policemen keeping the different protestors separated dropped his head and shook it in response to one of the guy’s most racist rants. I wondered what, exactly, that policeman was thinking.

I think that the police behaved well and performed their duties objectively – at least during the time I was at the protest. I had several polite and friendly discussions with officers on the edges of the crowd, where they seemed to like to stay. I’m sure, however, that there will be some investigations into their conduct at the end of the event. I hope there will be an independent one that answers all of the questions about what happened.

In the meantime, my only criticism of the police is that I think they should have tried to do more than simply keep the two sides apart. I know they had a difficult job, but why, for example, did they seem to be ignoring the people dressed like wannabe militia walking through the crowd with AR-15s? Why didn’t they seem concerned about the Antifa squad that appeared poised for mayhem? And why didn’t one of them go over and talk to the guy who was literally trying to incite a race riot by screaming horrible things through his megaphone?

I realize there were First Amendment and Second Amendment issues involved, but I can’t help but wonder if the protest would have stayed peaceful if the police had been a bit more proactive. I’m not saying they should have made any preemptive arrests or told anybody to shut up. But it seems to me they could have at least tried to initiate some communication with all of the protestors to try and reduce the tension.

Updates

In November 2017 the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arizona sued the Phoenix Police Department in order to collect public records regarding its use of force on protesters during President Trump’s August rally.

On November 30, 2017, the Phoenix police released several videos of the police taking action against protestors at the end of rally.

On January 29, 2018, the Phoenix Police Department released a report wherein they admitted they failed to provide adequate warning to peaceful protesters before they abruptly released “pepper balls,” which released a gaseous irritant, deployed pepper spray, tear gas, and fired foam batons into the crowd.

Maricopa County’s Transportation Plan Is Outdated

phoenix arizona freeway
(Wikipedia)

Every workday hundreds of thousands of drivers endure horrible congestion on the freeways and streets of Phoenix while commuting to and from their jobs. A study released in 2015 by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute estimated, for example, that Phoenix commuters were stuck in traffic jams for about 51 hours in 2014, racking up a “congestion cost” of $1,201 per person. This amount was calculated by combining the costs of wasted gas and lost time. And there are obviously other costs associated with this rush hour mess, such as health-damaging stress and unhealthy levels of air pollution.

Considering the magnitude of the problem, you would presume that solving it is the number one priority of the area’s transportation planners. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. In fact, it’s somewhat the opposite.

Some of the blame for this awful traffic belongs to the Republican-controlled Arizona State Legislature. In 2004 they passed H.B. 2456, which placed Proposition 400 on the ballot in Maricopa County. It asked county voters if they wanted to extend a half-cent per dollar sales tax until 2025 to fund local transportation improvement projects. But it also dictated how the money had to be used if the measure was approved. It required that the revenues had to be spent as follows:

  • 56.2% on freeways (mostly new) and highways
  • 33.3% on public transit
  • 10.5% on improving existing arterial streets

Maricopa County voters had little choice but to pass Proposition 400 in the fall of 2004 because their only other option was to gut transportation funding. And new freeways needed to be built because rapid real estate development had created traffic that far exceeded the capacity of the existing roadways.

But today there are freeways serving all of Phoenix’s densely populated areas. The only new freeway that can be justified is the South Mountain Freeway, which will significantly reduce congestion and air pollution along Interstate 10 in Phoenix by allowing cross-country commercial truck traffic to bypass the city.

The Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) is the regional planning authority for metro Phoenix, and its Transportation Policy Committee (TPC) is in charge of the Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) that’s funded by the Proposition 400 revenues. The committee solicits public comments on the RTP, but its hands are somewhat tied by the spending rules included in Proposition 400.

Still, the TPC could at least focus its freeway spending on improving the existing the ones, instead of building new ones. But the current plan still includes millions of dollars for the Estrella Freeway (303L), the I-10 Reliever (SR 30), and the Gateway Freeway (SR 24). All of these new roads are on the outskirts of Phoenix, and will create more traffic congestion by contributing to urban sprawl. In other words, they primarily benefit real estate development – not existing transportation problems. This can be partially explained by the fact that when the legislature created the TPC in 2003, it mandated that six of its 23 members must be local business representatives appointed by the legislature.

The rigid spending rules included in Proposition 400 are one of the reasons that the City of Phoenix submitted Proposition 104 to the voters in 2015. City leaders realized that they’d have to find another source of funding in order to improve mass transit and add alternative transportation options. The city’s voters subsequently approved the proposed 0.7% sales tax increase to help fund a 35 year modern urban transportation plan.

The residents of Tucson also seem to understand that more freeways aren’t necessarily the answer. In 2006 Pima County voters approved a half-cent sales tax through 2026 to fund a regional transportation plan. The plan is administered by the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) of the Pima Association of Governments (PAG). Their plan also spends most of the revenues on freeways (57%), but the money’s intended to improve existing ones, not build new ones.

Phoenix’s serious traffic congestion and air pollution problems cannot be solved by just building more freeways. A ballot initiative to implement a new transportation plan that prioritizes modern mass transit solutions in the urban core should be submitted to the county’s voters. The economic benefits from this strategy would undoubtedly be greater than the existing plan, and it would ensure that existing residents are the primary beneficiaries of local transportation spending. The problem can’t wait until Proposition 400 expires in 2025.

Updates

Instead of investing more in mass transit, a group of light rail opponents, called Building a Better Phoenix, completed a successful petition drive in late 2018 to send the popular public transit system to the ballot in August 2019, asking voters to end light-rail expansion in Phoenix and instead divert the city’s money to conventional transportation projects.

Comparing Two Arizona Scandals

A Phoenix newspaper investigation in November found that Valley Metro Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Steve Banta appeared to have abused his expense account by several tens of thousands of dollars. Valley Metro is the metropolitan Phoenix public mass transit district that manages the local bus and light rail system.

Banta subsequently resigned and the district’s new interim CEO, Eric Anderson, told the district’s governing boards that Valley Metro’s travel budget will be reduced and all employee travel expenses will be scrutinized from now on. The City of Phoenix, the largest contributor to the district’s budget, is conducting an audit of all of the organizations travel expenses back to 2010.

Valley Metro operates with public funding, so there was justifiable outrage when Banta’s inappropriate expenditures were revealed, especially from local conservative politicians. The three most conservative members of the Phoenix City Council sent a letter to Arizona State Attorney General Mark Brnovich calling for a criminal investigation into Banta’s spending. Brnovich, also a conservative Republican, responded by recently announcing that his office will conduct a criminal investigation of Banta’s questionable expenditures.

Conservative Republican state Rep. Warren Petersen also reacted to the scandal by announcing he will introduce legislation to crack down on public officials who commit fraud and misappropriate public funds. “Termination from a high position in government office should not be like winning the Lotto,” Petersen said. He was referring to the fact that Banta will still be entitled to a $265,000 annuity that was part of his employment contract. There’s already a state law that disqualifies government employees convicted of felonies committed while they’re on the job from collecting a state retirement pension, but Petersen says his proposal will go further.

Joe Arpaio
Joe Arpaio (Phoenix New Times)

In the meantime, malfeasance by conservative Republican Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio since he assumed office in 1993 has cost county taxpayers an estimated $142 million in legal settlements, court awards and legal fees.

Furthermore, in 2013 U.S. District Court Judge Murray Snow ruled that Arpaio’s office was guilty of violating the constitutional rights of Latino drivers by stopping them for essentially “driving while brown.” The judged ordered Arpaio’s office to cease using race or ancestry as a grounds to stop, detain or hold occupants of vehicles.

The sheriff’s office didn’t comply, so in January of 2015 Judge Snow announced he was initiating civil contempt charges against Arpaio for failing to follow his orders. One of the things that was revealed during the court testimony was that Arpaio paid at least $250,000 in public funds to a Seattle investigator before he figured out the investigator was a con artist. The plaintiffs in the case submitted evidence that Arpaio paid the investigator to see if Judge Snow was participating in a conspiracy against him. Mike Zullo, a member of one of Arpiao’s volunteer posses, oversaw the operation and testified in court that the investigation wasn’t intended to hurt the judge. Arpaio may have committed perjury too when he first denied any knowledge of the investigation and then later testified he knew about it. This prompted Judge Snow to declare in court that Arpaio, “has not been fully forthcoming with this court.” After testimony concluded in contempt hearings Judge Snow warned that a criminal contempt case my result from the testimony of Arpaio and his minions.

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, which is controlled by Republicans, has failed to take any actions against Arpaio. Instead, they recently raised property taxes and one of the reasons was to help pay the additional bills the county has incurred as a result of Arpaio’s offensive behavior.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich hasn’t yet announced that he’s investigating Arpaio. The same can be said for conservative Republican Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery.

It’s obvious there are two types of government scandals in Arizona, and local conservative politicians and media outlets are deciding which ones matter the most.

Updates

On November 8, 2016, Maricopa County voters finally wised-up to Sheriff Joe Arpaio and voted him out of office by a margin of 66 to 44 percent.

On July 31, 2017, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton found Joe Arpaio guilty of criminal contempt of court for violating a court order to stop racial profiling by his deputies.

On August 25, 2017, President Donald Trump pardoned former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

On September 10, 2018, former Valley Metro CEO Steve Banta pleaded guilty to misusing public money on dining and travel expenses.

On November 20, 2018, former Valley Metro CEO Steve Banta was sentenced to probation and a $6,000 fine.

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