FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 5, 2022
Contact: Russell Facente, 480-788-6783, CentralAZnlg@pm.me
Central Arizona Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild issues public response to invitation from Department of Justice to cooperate with its investigation of the Phoenix Police Department’s recurring misconduct against protesters in 2020
Phoenix, AZ — In the wake of the nationwide uprising following the murder of George Floyd—and the murders of Dion Johnson, Muhammad Muhaymin Jr.,and James Garcia at the hands of law enforcement here in Phoenix—the Department of Justice (DOJ) has begun an investigation into the matter the local community has already known and publicly protested for decades: Phoenix Police and other law enforcement agencies around the state and country maintain a policy of violence, harassment, and murder against Black, brown, and poor communities.
The DOJ’s investigation comes only on the heels of community investigation, and was likely forced by the nationwide exposure from Dave Biscobing of ABC15’s reporting on political prosecutions by Phoenix Police Department (PPD) and Maricopa County Attorney’s Office (MCAO).
In their first wave of community engagement and interviews, the DOJ was met with skepticism and distrust because of the DOJ’s long history of weak and inadequate consent decrees that cost taxpayers millions for very little change. To avoid a repeat of increased funding and continued violence as seen elsewhere, local organizations have asked the DOJ to publicly adhere to basic guidelines:
- The DOJ must follow the leadership of the people and community organizations who have been exposing the violence and corruption of the Phoenix Police Department when determining the interventions agreed to in a consent decree
- No interventions that expand the scope, scale, or funding of the Phoenix Police Department
- Nothing that increases the roles or responsibilities of the police department
- Nothing that increases the number of staff positions or current employees
- Nothing that expands the types of technology the department has access to
- Nothing that increases funding for the department
- No interventions that include expanding tools, tech, or policies that will increase criminalization and incarceration
- Nothing that puts police officers in our neighborhoods more frequently or in higher numbers
- Nothing that puts our communities at risk for increased surveillance
In this second wave of community engagement, the DOJ reached out to our Legal Observers for a consensual interview. We surmise that PPD has been just as opaque and illusive with the DOJ as it has been with the Central Arizona chapter’s public records requests, and the requests for information from the community. It appears that the DOJ is once again reaching out to the community for the information already known and gathered as the targets of PPD misconduct, yet without offering the protection and accountability the community requests in exchange.
Central Arizona Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild released the following statement in response to the DOJ request for interview:
|The NLG has an ethical and moral obligation to protect confidential attorney work product and other sensitive information obtained in anticipation of litigation, criminal defense, or legal counsel. The history of social movement surveillance and repression in this country and around the world shows that the government has gone and will go to great lengths to destroy movements for social justice and liberation, generally acting with impunity and extralegally. (March 2021, National Statement on Dissociation of Mass Defense Work from Law Enforcement).|
The Central Arizona chapter of NLG agrees with local communities that police are not the solution to harm caused by poverty, mental illness, and a lack of basic resources like quality education, healthcare, and housing. Hyper-criminalization, hyper-policing, and mass incarceration have not only failed to reduce harm, but continue to target and actively harm Black, brown, and poor communities. Central Arizona NLG cannot support a DOJ investigation that is likely to increase funding to police and perpetuate dysfunctional and harmful practices, as other anti-crime policies have shown to be more effective–and less deadly–for Black, brown, and poor people.
Previous increases in police budgets for technology, training, compliance, and equipment has enabled law enforcement’s abuse of “less-lethal” weapons, in addition to an increase in surveillance equipment and the subsequent false identification of people of color. Historically, military equipment and training has been weaponized by police against First Amendment protesters and communities of color, including stingrays, teargas, rubber bullets, and sound cannons. In instances when funding is increased (as a result of a consent decree) and earmarked for seemingly benign purposes such as retraining, “compliance,” and related equipment, these monies can be easily reallocated to further target and harm communities.
The DOJ has made zero commitments to the members of the community targeted by police nor agreed to proceed in a transparent manner. They have not demonstrated behaviors that distinguish them from other law enforcement agencies presently or in decades past. Based on the efficacy of former DOJ investigations and the concerning attitudes expressed by the current DOJ team to the Phoenix community (including to members of NLG), the Central Arizona Chapter and its impacted members decline to speak with the DOJ at this time.