The family held at gunpoint by Phoenix cops said at a press conference at City Hall Monday that public apologies from the police chief and mayor feel like a “slap in the face.” They want the officers held accountable, and community leaders are calling for rallies and protests this week to address the broader toxic police culture in the Arizona city.
“Everyone knows they are not fit to be policing,” said Dravon Ames, the father of the family, regarding the two cops who threatened them in a Dollar Store parking lot in late May. “Just like any other job, those officers should be held accountable — and they aren’t being held accountable at all.”
In bystander video that went viral late last week, the two officers run toward Ames and his fiancée Iesha Harper’s vehicle with their guns drawn. Officers later said they were responding to a call about a theft in the store.
“Get out of the fucking car,” one officer shouts, adding, “Put your hands up.”
“I can’t put my hands up,” Harper replies. “I have a fucking baby in my hands. I can’t. I’m pregnant.” Officers slam Ames against the police vehicle, cuff him, and then kick him in the back of the knees. “You’re going to get fucking shot,” one officer shouted.
One of two children in the car, a 4-year-old girl, had stolen a doll from the store without her parents’ knowledge.
“It was very terrifying for me and my children because they’ve never been through anything like that, especially when they have guns pointed at them,” Harper said at Monday’s press conference. “I always taught my daughters to depend on the police if something happens, but she had to find out herself that she cannot depend on the police.”
Ames and Harper have filed a $10 million civil rights suit against the city of Phoenix.
“This happens every day and every hour in America,” said their attorney Sandra Slaton at the press conference. “But there was video of this, and thank god there was.” The family is also getting assistance from rapper Jay-Z, who has hired another top lawyer to join the legal team in the case.
Over the weekend, Phoenix’s Police Chief Jeri Williams put out a video statement on Facebook, in which she spoke directly to the camera. “I, like you, am disturbed by the language and actions of our officers,” Williams said. She also appeared on a local NBC station, saying she was “with everyone in the community who is angry.”
Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego also apologized, writing on Twitter that she was “deeply sorry for what this family went through.” She also called the officers’ actions “completely inappropriate and clearly unprofessional.”
But their apologies are falling flat.
“Inappropriate and unprofessional?” said Kat McKinney, a community leader who runs an organization called Black Women of Faith. “How about ‘inhumane’? How about that word.”
Williams said she put the officers involved in the incident on desk duty after she became aware of the video last week. But for the family and community members, it’s not enough.
"Apologize to their face"
“They didn’t apologize to this family. They went on an apology tour,” said Jarrett Maupin, a spokesperson for the family, at the press conference. “This is 2019. This is not 1959. We’re not going to be treated as anything less than human beings. If you want to apologize to the Ames-Harper family, bring it on down and apologize to their face.”
Only weeks ago, Phoenix Police Department said it was reviewing hundreds of disturbing, racist and violent Facebook posts by nearly 100 current and former officers. The posts, which were compiled in a database by researchers at the Plain View Project, show officers calling black people “thugs,” sharing images of Confederate flags, and writing things like “good day for a chokehold.” Williams said she was “shocked” by some of the posts, and had pulled some officers off their enforcement duties.
An investigation by Phoenix New Times found that 11 of the Phoenix officers included in the database have been accused of killing or gravely injuring people.
Members of the community pointed to the Facebook posts as further evidence that the Phoenix Police Department is plagued by a racist, toxic, violent culture. Last year, police in Phoenix, the fifth most populous city in the U.S., shot and killed 44 people — more than any other large city. Police officials blamed a surge in violent crime.
When Williams, Phoenix’s first black female police chief, took office in 2016, she positioned herself as an ally to the community. She extolled the virtues of community policing, which was promoted by the Obama-led Justice Department. She expressed tepid support for Black Lives Matter, and said she recognized the protest movement was “spawned by a rash of men of color, and sometimes women of color, being killed by the hands of law enforcement.” But at the same time, she’s tried to maintain favor within the law enforcement community, by tacking on statements like “frankly, I’m all about all lives matter.”
After Williams took office, a group of community activists —including McKinney from Black Women of Faith — submitted a “12 Point Plan for Healing, Reconciliation, and Peace” to the Phoenix Police Department.”
“This was after several years of us protesting and trying to wait for them to come up with a solution,” said McKinney. “We can’t wait any longer. People are dying. Their lives are in danger. This is immediate action that needs to be taken.”
Among the recommendations, community members called on the City of Phoenix to immediately turn over investigations into fatal shootings and brutality to an outside law enforcement agency. They also urged Phoenix police department to immediately complete the sensitivity and diversity training that they’d abandoned earlier in the year, and to speed up the process of outfitting all officers with body cameras None of those recommendations have been implemented yet, McKinney says.
“They haven’t done a damn thing, including the purchasing of body cameras,” Maupin said at Monday’s presser. On Tuesday, community activists plan to rally at City Hall to pressure officials to adopt the recommendations; the rally will coincide with a Town Hall that the mayor is hosting about the incident. On Thursday, Maupin said that a coalition of local activists have organized a mass protest. “Black leaders, sports figures, music, politics, community, the church, have put their hands around this young couple, because of the absolute injustice they’ve endured,” said Maupin.
Cover: Iesha Harper, right, answers a question during a news conference as she is joined by her fiancee Dravon Ames, left, at Phoenix City Hall, Monday, June 17, 2019, in Phoenix. Ames and his pregnant fiancée, Harper, who had guns aimed at them by Phoenix police during a response to a shoplifting report, say they don't accept the apologies of the city's police chief and mayor and want the officers involved to be fired.(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)