After the Wildcats' defeat in the NCAA championship Monday, April 2, I went out to see the reaction of the fans gathered down the street from my home. I was not the only one going to Fourth Avenue as the game ended. By one account there were as many as three people arriving for every one leaving.
The crowd immediately following the game was relatively mild and jovial, and seemed to pose no threat of rioting. My lack of interest brought me northbound to a corner where I spoke at length to a detective. He described the mob-control weapons they had for the evening--the shock batons, bean bag rounds, concussion grenades and tear gas. At that point (around 9:30 p.m.) it seemed the police would have no reason to use them.
When the detective got the radio call to "gear up," I went south toward the smell of fire. When I tried to get a better look an officer told me to leave. This was the only time a uniformed officer informed me to leave the area.
At this point--10 p.m.--there were more police than civilians on the avenue. An advancing line of riot police banged their shields with their billy clubs as they took tiny steps forward. From the parking lot outside of Antigone's at Seventh Street I stood alone, watching the skirmish line advance. After a minute or so, wanting to leave, I put my hands in the air to indicate I was not a threat, but they shot me twice in the ass. The impact was so intense it threw my back out. As I rode off on my bicycle, they shot my watch off of my wrist, and my lower arm went numb.
I WAS NOT THE ONLY person to be shot in the next half-hour. The police marched down Fourth Avenue with their riot gear and shock batons banging on their shields, shooting anyone in sight. They shot the owner of Kanella's. They shot the owner of Che's and his bouncer, who was sent to the hospital. They shot the owner of Majestik Tattoo and an employee as they tried to lock up their business and leave, per police order. The owner of TNT smoke shop was shot trying to nail plywood over his windows.
One man was shot with rubber bullets and a concussion grenade. The impact knocked him to the ground. The police approached and covered him with pepper spray, despite his immobility, tore the film from his camera and arrested him. He said there were good facial shots of the guys who had lit the RV on fire.
In fact, seven of the 17 arrested that night were charged with unlawful assembly. They weren't destroying property. They weren't assaulting people in the mob. Most likely, they were trying to get the hell out of there.
At Hoff and Ninth Street they shot an adolescent riding his bike and a resident on her front porch. They shot people with their hands in the air. They shot reporters and photographers. They even shot their own officers. An eyewitness recalled a man whose head was split open with a plate of plastic, perhaps from one of the concussion grenades. He went to the police for a med kit to stop the bleeding and the police asked him, "What do you want us to do?" They said he'd have to call the paramedics.
Another person was hit with a flash bang weapon while he was trying to unlock his bike. One woman said she overheard one cop bet another that he could toss a concussion grenade between the legs of a civilian. The civilian went down from the blast.
The police say they declared unlawful assembly at 10:02 p.m., although no one seems to have heard the order. By statute, the police are not required to wait a set amount of time after the declaration before firing on the crowd, says TPD public information officer Judy Altieri.
Other eyewitnesses said they saw the police shower rubber bullets on a kid riding a BMX bike. In response to this apparent injustice, the kid went into a rage and threw his bike at businesses' windows. A witness pointed the boy out to the cops, and the witness was shot in response.
The most tragic incident was a university student's loss of an eye. He was not arrested or charged with any misconduct. He was just a curious bystander who got a bean bag of birdshot lodged in his eye socket. Police Chief Richard Miranda remarked to the Arizona Daily Star on Saturday that "We don't know whether we were at fault or he was at fault."
The batons that shot multiple rounds of wooden bullets, used liberally that night, came with a bold warning printed on the side of the canister: "To be used by law enforcement, correction and military personnel trained in specialty impact munitions. WARNING: Manufacturer recommends skip fire. Use only in accordance with manufacturer's instruction after receiving proper training."
"Manufacturer recommends skip fire"--meaning the ammunition is supposed to hit and skip off the ground before it strikes a person. That is how the police were supposed to be trained on these weapons. Perhaps if the officer who shot the kid in the eye had remembered his training, there would not have been such a tragic loss.
I know the "bean bags" that hit me were not skip-fired. I have bruises on my ass the size of a tea saucer, and had trouble sitting for four days.
BY THE TIME I interviewed the business owners themselves, they had been advised not to talk. The merchants depend upon a good working relationship with the Tucson Police Department, and they have a representative on the panel investigating TPD's riot response.
Mike Haggerty, owner of Piney Hollow, was one of the few people to speak on the record. At the City Council meeting Monday night he commented on the lack of respect for the people by the police and the restrictions placed on him when he tried to approach his shop--his private property. "The police, in large part, were responsible for the trouble," he believes. The air last Monday night, he said, reminded him of Vietnam War-era protests. Like the National Guard's presence in the '70s, the police's presence merely escalated tensions and increased the tendencies toward violence.
Many people wonder where the police went just before 10 p.m. when the fire was started. Why didn't they send 10 of their heaviest hitting officers into the crowd and address the problems head-on? The police are, after all, trained to address situations like these. With hundreds of police posted, how could none be instructed to move in on the crowd immediately? Instead, they withdrew.
They could have closed the bars. Instead of blowing some $200,000 of taxpayers' money in one night of excessive force, critics ask, why didn't they offer the bars compensation to not open their doors? Private viewing of the game certainly wouldn't have resulted in a mob drunk and delirious with Final Four fever.
Instead, we had a cop riot trying to cope with a drunken riot. One mob trying to suppress another.
A wise old man once told me you could calculate the IQ of a mob by taking the lowest IQ in the bunch and dividing it by the number of people participating. A fair assessment of both the civilian and the police mob.
The Fourth Avenue Merchants Association is looking forward to a meeting with the police department regarding last week's incident. The police have already recorded numerous official complaints and comments. La Mesa RV has generously donated an RV to the family that lost its in the mob violence. I am sure the young man who lost an eye will be compensated.
Next week, after the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on arming, training and assembling a mob of officers, will TPD's folly be forgotten in a wake of additional taxpayer-financed payoffs? And next time the University of Arizona goes to the finals, will so much money be spent on such useless destruction to prove to the populace that the cops will always win?
Probably. You watch.