This past weekend, approximately 10,000 to 20,000 people gathered on the streets of Phoenix, Arizona to protest Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s controversial immigration enforcement tactics. Though the protest was peaceful for the most part, violence briefly erupted after a small group “anarchist” protesters allegedly assaulted a Maricopa County police officer who responded by releasing pepper spray into the crowd. Stephen Lemons of the Phoenix New Times points out that most protesters in the area confirm that the pepper spray ended up injuring many innocent bystanders, including children:
Many of the witnesses agree on a few key facts: That a female officer on horseback walked her horse into the crowd at one point; that the horse became agitated; that the female officer sprayed pepper spray into the crowd; and that scores of people, including women and children were overtaken by the fumes…
“She pulled out a long can,” Sage [protester] said of the officer on horseback, “and sprayed out some dark fog stuff into the crowd near the people in black, I think the anarchists. Everyone started running back, and I saw a lot of little kids sprayed and sick and crying. Children and mothers who got sprayed.
Phoenix’s local Channel 12 news reports that an asthmatic six-year old was hit by the pepper spray. Phoenix police spokesman Sgt. Andy Hill has confirmed that a two-year old child was also hit and treated by paramedics. California activist and videographer Naui also captured video of a young boy crying from the effects of the pepper spray.
As Lemons points out, it’s probably inaccurate to claim that the officer intentionally pepper-sprayed small children. Yet, it’s unfortunate that the situation could not have been dealt with differently. Salvador Reza, one of the organizers of the protest, described the anarchists who allegedly created the disturbance as “an outside faction” and says that, overall, the march was a success in terms of “sending out a message against the tactics of Arpaio and the policies of immigration that divide families and communities.”