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Bodycam captured police saying they wanted to ‘gas’ and ‘stomp on’ BLM protesters

Protesters rally in Phoenix in June to demand that the city council defund the city's police department. (Matt York/AP)
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After helping to arrest 18 Black Lives Matter protesters, three Phoenix police officers sat in a squad car allegedly lamenting that they hadn’t trampled the group and doused them in pepper spray.

“Why didn’t we just stomp on them when they were leaving?” an officer asks in body-camera video published by ABC15.

“Gas 'em,” another says, suggesting that they should “just gas them and let them run like crazy.”

The protesters’ attorneys seized on the video to support their argument that the prosecutions were politically motivated, ABC15 reported. Police Chief Jeri Williams vowed “swift and decisive disciplinary action” in response to the officers’ alleged behavior, which she characterized as disrespectful and threatening to the department’s relationship with community members.

Williams did not offer details of the impending discipline, and the names of the officers in the video have not been made public.

Hours after the video was released, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office announced that it had moved to dismiss the charges against the 15 adult protesters arrested Oct. 17. Public pressure to drop the prosecutions had been mounting, especially after ABC15 reported that some of the same officers who have responded to recent demonstrations shared a “challenge coin” — allegedly tied to a neo-Nazi symbol — in 2017 to celebrate shooting a protester in the groin.

Phoenix police have a history of scrutiny. A video showing an officer threatening to shoot a pregnant woman and her fiance in 2019, the year after Phoenix led the United States in police shootings, ignited protests, lawsuits and tense public hearings. The new allegations of misconduct come at a fraught moment for law enforcement nationwide, as last year’s racial-justice protests force self-reflection and departments grapple with some of their members’ alleged participation in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

This city led the U.S. in police shootings last year. After a viral video, tensions are boiling over.

In the Phoenix video, the officers bemoan the proliferation of body cameras, which one says “has taken the job down the drain.” Departments have heralded the cameras, which have become more common in recent years, as tools that promote transparency and protect officers and civilians.

“We actually want to do the job like we did 10, 15 years ago, but it’s never going to come back,” one officer says in the video. “If they ever came back and they said, ‘Guys, just f------ kick some f------ a-- out there and reduce crime,’ I’d say, ‘Okay.’ ”

“So you won’t be in f------ handcuffs and doing your job?” another officer replies. “Going, ‘Oh, let me go watch that body cam video just in case he might have struck somebody.’ I remember back when. It was so much nicer.”

As the officers drive back to the police station, someone on the sidewalk yells at them to “Go home!” The officers joke to each other that they would love to go home. Then one mutters, “F------ liberal pieces of s---.”

In response to the video, Williams vowed that she would not let the officers’ actions destroy the credibility of the department’s roughly 4,000 members.

“I have been and will continue to be an advocate of the amazing work done in this department each day,” she said in a statement. “However, I know that unprofessional, disrespectful and inappropriate behavior from even one of our officers tarnishes the badge, but more importantly, it hurts the community we have sworn to protect.”

City Manager Ed Zuercher acknowledged “deep rooted issues” in the department.

“This department is going to change,” he said in his own statement. “I demand it. Chief Williams demands it. And the public expects it.”

A police chief made racist remarks before a BLM protest. A sergeant’s bodycam captured it all.

Almost every participant in the protest was arrested after police say they blocked traffic, knocked over barricades and tossed “incendiary devices” at officers.

The 15 adults arrested faced a slew of charges, including rioting, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and resisting arrest. They were also charged with assisting a street gang in what the Arizona Republic reported was the first time Phoenix prosecutors filed gang charges in connection with last year’s racial-justice protests.

A police officer argued in court that the protesters met the criteria for a gang because their chants of “All cops are b-------” could be considered a self-proclamation. The protesters mostly dressed in black and carried umbrellas — possibly to defend against pepper spray — which could be considered a uniform.

Three juveniles were also arrested in the protest.

Bruce Franks Jr., a prominent police abolitionist in Phoenix, called the move to drop the charges a helpful but inadequate step toward justice. He called on prosecutors to dismiss those charges with prejudice — as well as charges against roughly 20 protesters arrested in other incidents — so that they cannot be reinstated.

Franks, who faces charges in connection with a separate protest, added that the video of officers “dehumanizing” protesters and reminiscing about the days before body cameras was unsurprising.

“Those officers drew a clear picture of the problem with policing,” he wrote to The Washington Post. “You have racist, white supremacist officers using their power to attack Black and brown communities to silence political opponents.”

The Phoenix video comes weeks after body-camera video captured a Georgia police chief and sergeant’s racist conversations during the Black Lives Matter protests. Hamilton Police Department Chief Gene Allmond and Sgt. John Brooks were asked to resign.

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