The Department of Justice‘s (DOJ) newly announced an investigation of Arizona’s capital city of Phoenix as well as its police department never specifically mentions the years-long allegations of racism leveled against both by its Black residents.
Instead, the “civil pattern or practice investigation” will include among its tasks to determine whether the Phoenix Police Department “engages in discriminatory policing,” a vague, all-inclusive phrase that was only mentioned twice in the DOJ’s press release and just once by U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland during the press conference announcing the investigation on Thursday.
Considering the nature of a growing number of the complaints over the years about the Phoenix Police Department center on race, not using a single variation of the word “racism” could be seen as a curious omission at best. At worst, it could be seen as an effort to downplay the role race has undeniably played in the Phoenix Police Department.
Phoenix is the third such investigation launched by the DOJ, including those in Minneapolis and Louisville that were prompted in part by racial tensions.
The DOJ Investigation in Phoenix
Specifically, the investigation will focus on the department’s use of force, whether officers employ “retaliatory activity,” use “discriminatory policing” and how the department “seizes or disposes of the belongings of individuals experiencing homelessness.”
The “discriminatory policing” part could refer to the investigation’s planned attention to the Phoenix Police Department’s “systems and practices for responding to people with disabilities,” as specifically addressed in the press release.
“The investigation will include a comprehensive review of PhxPD policies, training, supervision, and force investigations, as well as PhxPD’s systems of accountability, including misconduct complaint intake, investigation, review, disposition, and discipline,” the press release added.
But there was never one single direct reference to race, the very topic that has spawned a global reckoning following the high-profile police murder of George Floyd last year in Minneapolis.
What DOJ officials are saying
In announcing the investigation, Garland made one single reference to the DOJ checking “whether the Phoenix Police Department engages in discriminatory policing practices that violate the Constitution and federal law.”
Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke during her speech on Thursday announcing the investigation never used a variation of the word “discrimination” or “racism” once. Considering that Clarke has been hailed as someone “dedicated to anti-racism and anti-hate,” the omission of the mention may have been intentional.
The Phoenix Police Department’s Culture Of Racism And Corruption
When specifically addressing the Phoenix Police Department, it’s nearly impossible to leave race out of the equation.
Yes, there are other issues with the department besides race. Namely, the fact that the department is fresh off of “a record-breaking year in which Phoenix officers shot at people more than any other police agency in the nation,” as reported by AZ Central. But, the publication also noted that “Black and Native American people were disproportionately shot when compared with their population numbers in the city.”
NewsOne has been following the trends of the Phoenix Police Department in recent years and a pattern of anti-Black behavior is more than apparent.
That includes the violent arrest of a Black family with young children that was captured on a video that showed they had their lives threatened the nonviolent allegation of a doll being stolen by a young girl from a store.
Dravon Ames was with his pregnant fiancée and their two small children when they were approached by numerous aggressive police officers in an apartment complex parking lot in Phoenix.
The video shows Ames and his family complying with police, with one officer yelling expletives hysterically while threatening to shoot them all.
“You’re gonna fucking get shot!” the cop yells at one point.
“I’m gonna put a fucking cap in your fucking head,” he said in another instance.
A database was released that same year and outed racist Facebook posts made by police officers around the country, many of whom were with the force in Phoenix.
More recently, renowned civil rights attorney Ben Crump in March filed a racial profiling lawsuit against AMC Theaters for falsely accusing a Black moviegoer of sneaking into a movie without paying in Phoenix. Larry Shelton recorded his 2019 encounter with theater staff that falsely accused him as well as officers with the Phoenix Police Department.
Unbeknownst to Shelton, the manager called the police, who entered the theater to escort him out.
That’s when Shelton was forced to “fight against the presumption of guilt,” as Crump put it, just to prove his innocence despite the absence of any proof or evidence of any wrongdoing.
After the police asked, Shelton produced his ticket stub, which was reluctantly verified by the theater manager, who is white.
But the manager, who previously said he was “100% sure” Shelton sneaked in, still said Shelton had to leave and had the police escort him off the premises even though no crime was committed.
There is obvious institutional support for the Phoenix Police Department, as evidenced by a city councilman who defended the cops who threatened to shoot and kill Ames and his family over a doll that was not ever actually stolen. Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio called people protesting Ames’ police encounter “anarchists” who “are out to destroy the city.”
Over the years there have also been instances where officers have killed a man and his dog for no reason, committed perjury, staged traffic stops to steal money from drug dealers, body-slammed a 15-year-old girl against a wall and much more. Most of those instances did not involve the use of bodycams.
Phoenix is the fifth-largest city in the country. Its police department tried a pilot program in 2013 and dispatched only 300 cameras, but it never expanded. There were also standstills with bidding as they tried to figure out who would be the provider. In 2019, the city council finally approved a $5 million budget to fund 2,000 body cameras and Mayor Kate Gallego claimed the city would have the cameras distributed by the end of the summer. According to AZ Central, community officers who assist with block watches, community groups and neighborhood enforcement teams would not wear cameras.
All of the above and more happened on the watch of Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams, a Black woman.
This is America.