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100s of protesters, Tucson police face off during demonstration over George Floyd death

After demonstration marked by vandalism, community leaders ask for peace and prayer

After Friday's protest, in which Tucson police officers clad in riot gear confronted hundreds of protesters in Downtown Tucson, community leaders ask for calm and prayer. And, Tucson police announced plans to deal with a possible second night of protests.

Across the country, protesters in more than a dozen cities, including Tucson and Phoenix, marched Friday night to protest the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day. Here, demonstrators also smashed windows, set fire to dumpsters, and tagged several buildings, including Tucson Police Department's headquarters, with graffiti.

Floyd's death has prompted a national outcry after video showed him pinned to the ground by four police officers, including one later identified as Derek Chauvin. In the video, Chauvin forces his knee into the man's neck for more than eight minutes, as the 46-year-old man pleads for his life, telling the officers "I can't breathe."

Floyd was unresponsive when paramedics arrived, and he was later pronounced dead.

Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter, and all four officers have been fired. Hennepin County's prosecutor said that he "anticipates charges" for the other three officers.

In Tucson, dozens of police officers formed a line at the intersection of Church Avenue and Cushing Street, blocking traffic at either end and faced off with about 300 protesters until 3:30 a.m.

Related opinion: George Floyd protests: Who's controlling the narrative of Black America?

The protest was largely peaceful, though at times the crowd simmered with frustration, aiming some of their ire at journalists covering the protest. Arguing that photographers and reporters were "part of the problem" and that by recording the protest they were setting up a situation where some would be killed later, "out of revenge" by outside forces, a small group of protesters repeatedly struck at journalists.

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At least six men tied to the 2014 protests in Ferguson have died: two of them were found dead inside torched cars, while three others died in apparent suicides, and another man's death was ruled an overdose of fentanyl.

One photographer was repeatedly attacked by members of the crowd, and at one point, protesters targeted Arizona Daily Star reporter Caitlin Schmidt and snatched her cellphone from her hand, throwing it out into the street. Another Star reporter recovered the phone.

"I'm worried about you guys being here," one protester told TucsonSentinel.com. "They don't want you here."

Three photographers and three reporters from the Arizona Daily Star, along with news crews from KVOA and KGUN stayed in the street for hours, recording the confrontation as police increasingly "kettled" the crowd by shifting their position, pushing east along Cushing Street to the intersection where South Church Ave. becomes South Convent Avenue.

Four people were arrested, including one person who was charged with two counts of aggravated assault against a police officer.

Tucson leaders call for calm during 'painful week'

During a press conference Saturday afternoon, Tucson Mayor Regina Romero called this a "very painful week for our community, and for our country, on top of incredibly painful months." And, she called for people to listen to the city's African-American community.

"This week has tapped into a deep and generational pain rooted in a long history of iniquity and oppression," she said. Romero called the death of Floyd "heartbreaking," and said that Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus was correct when he tweeted Tuesday that the video showed an "indefensible use of force that good officers everywhere are appalled by."

Related: Ducey orders 8 pm curfew across Arizona after 2nd night of unrest

"This is contrary to how professional police officers train and conduct themselves. Conduct like this anywhere makes it more difficult for police everywhere to build community trust," he wrote.

Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier issued a statement Friday condemning the officers in Minneapolis, saying that their conduct was "completely contrary to training and professional standards. Further, it is contrary to the basic standards of humanity."

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"Conduct like this anywhere makes it more difficult for police everywhere to build community trust," Romero said. However, she was sharply critical of Friday's vandalism.

"Let's talk about last night," she said. "What I saw was not Tucson, and it's not going to be what moves us forward. Violence only brings violence." She said that harming locally owned "mom and pop businesses" who are already reeling from the outbreak of COVID-19 does nothing to "accomplish justice" for Floyd and instead, "only serves to divide our community."

This echoed her comments Friday night, where she tweeted: "Our hearts are hurting at the needless murder of yet another black HUMAN BEING. We're upset. Rightfully so," she wrote. "However, this does NOT justify harming small businesses that are already suffering during these difficult times..

"Please, honor the life of #GeorgeFloyd by demonstrating PEACEFULLY. Justice for George Floyd must be served. Causing property damage and inflicting harm on our fellow Tucsonans is not the way we accomplish this," she wrote.

"Now is the time to listen and grieve alongside our black brothers and sisters as we mourn another senseless and disgusting act of violence," she said Saturday. "Please do not diminish and co-opt their peaceful demands and demonstrations for justice with more senseless acts of violence..

And, she praised Tucson police for "the professionalism and the restraint that our police officers showed last night in a very dangerous and volatile situation..

Vigil planned, Friday's actions 'unacceptable

Romero was backed by four members of Tucson's African American community, who each called for peace and were sharply critical of Friday night's actions. They also said that the black community would hold a vigil at Dunbar Pavilion on Monday at 7 p.m.

Doris Snowden, president of NAACP Tucson, said she was "totally against the violence."

"But we have to pray, and be patient and recognize that change is a process," she said.

Zion Givens, a youth advocate, said that "what happened last night is unacceptable..

"If you look at the film and you look at who was actually looting and who was actually there," they weren't people that "look like me," he said. "They were not black."

"We know Mexicans and whites and Native Americans want to be a part of this revolution. We understand that, but going Downtown or breaking windows of local businesses, and breaking shops and looting in the name of Black people in the name of the Black race is not the way we want to be represented."

"We want to be heard, and in our own voice. If you want to be an ally and you want to help us you've got to do it the way we want it to be done. Any other way that goes against our Black communities another way another form of injustice and entitlement, and it's doing the black community more harm than good," Givens said.

Jamar Anthony with D.J.s Against Hunger said the problem between police and community starts with a lack of accountability, and he said that he spoke with Magnus, and praised Tucson's top cop for being one of the first people to criticize the actions of Chauvin and the other officers.

"That's what we've been praying for all these years, that we want the police to stand up and say this is wrong. And how do we reward the police for doing that last night? We hit them with stones and rocks," Anthony said. "This is not right and I as a member of the Black community, I will not stand by while people sit there and they use our pain too."

Four arrested Friday

Magnus said that four people were arrested during the protest, including one person who was arrested on two felony counts of aggravated assault against a police officer, and three people who were arrested for obstructing a thoroughfare. Magnus said that about 175 officers were deployed downtown, including many officers who were "pulled" from other stations throughout the city, and they faced a crowd estimated at 350 to 400 people at its largest.

Magnus said there had been "extensive" vandalism, and estimated the cost "likely upwards" of $200,000 and that both businesses and residences had been damaged. Magnus also said that one patrol vehicle was damaged.

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Magnus praised the efforts of his officers, noting that they had rocks, bottles, and firecrackers thrown at them, as well as "various fluids" and that during the protest shots were fired within 100 yards of the protest, and that multiple protesters were "openly armed."

As the night wore on protesters repeatedly used a call and response, yelling out "Say his name!" And, the crowd would respond with "George Floyd." Later, a car drove through the intersection booming N.W.A.'s "Fuck the police," as the crowd cheered.

Protesters had also painted graffiti on the concrete walls of the Tucson Police HQ with the phrase "Fuck 12" a reference against the police. This phrase was also used by the crowd throughout the night.

As the protest continued, some demonstrators squared up to police officers, and took photos, or simply bellowed at the armored cops, while one man managed to get a police officer to raise his visor, and the men spoke a little about the value of protests, violent protests, and the death of Floyd. As they spoke, a senior officer removed him from the line, and police shifted their ranks.

Magnus said that on Thursday, there was a protest that was peaceful and early Friday night, police expected the same, but that it "became clear that the character of the gathering was starting to change..

"We started to see people that frankly we didn't recognize from Tucson and made it clear that they were not from Tucson," he said. He attributed this change in part to people who "identify as anarchists," who "see themselves as ringleaders and inciting trouble." And, there were people who, according to other law enforcement agencies came from other cities and joined the protest.

He said that once the department realized it needed more officers, it was able to task them from other stations. "I mean we are always we prepared based on all the available information that we have, and we are always ready as you even saw last night, we need to bring more officers in to deal with the situation..

"So we never really were we never really surprised, I will say sometimes we're disappointed," he said.

"We know that they're not from here and it's obvious by the way, they even are interacting with others that they are not locals," Magnus said. "We also get information provided by other law enforcement agencies when it's possible that people are moving from city to city—we certainly seen that before," he said.

He also said that "across the board" his officers recognized the "outrage and horror" over the death of Floyd.

"I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a single member of our department, who doesn't feel this death should not have happened, and that the individuals who played any part of it should not be held fully accountable for their actions," he said, adding that the men should be not only be fired, but should face accountability "within the criminal justice system..

On Saturday, Tucson police will deploy more officers into the Downtown area, and will be aided by officers from the Arizona Department of Public Safety, who will close the I-10 exit at Broadway, as well as Pima County dheriff's deputies and officers from the University of Arizona Police Department. "I am going to remain optimistic, but cautious that this will be a better night," he said.

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On Saturday afternoon, several downtown Tucson businesses remained closed, including Charro Steak, where the restaurant's brace of windows along Broadway had been shattered and replaced with plywood, some which were painted with the green "Be Kind" symbol.

There was also obvious damage to the federal courthouse, as well as a medical clinic. A crew was busily painting over graffiti in alleyways.

A second protest was planned for Saturday night beginning at the University of Arizona, but that has been postponed organizers said in a Facebook post.

In an email Saturday, the Tucson Downtown Partnership said there was "significant property damage in the Downtown core. Many broken windows and a plethora of graffiti tags throughout the downtown." And, though the protest has been postponed, the group said they had reason to believe another one will occur.

Police will be closing the main arteries to downtown, including the entry ramp at I-10 and Congress, and an additional 200 officers may be deployed, the group said. Magnus said that he had spoken to Arizona Doug Ducey who had offered additional state resources, and said that he using DPS on the highways to help.

He also said that on Saturday night, police would make arrests, and that people would likely to be taken to the downtown jail, and he said that "precautions would be taken" to protect people against the spread of COVID-19.

"I have optimism, but I also prepare based on realism and we're going to do the best we can," Magnus said.

"I truly hope that tonight is different, and that we won't need the police," Romero said. "I want to take a moment to implore our community of Tucsonans to choose to give honor to the life of George Floyd, and so many others that have brutally lost their lives."

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Hundreds in Tucson protested the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died after a police officer pressed his knee in to his neck in Minneapolis on Monday. After protestors smashed windows and setting fire to dumpsters, dozens of Tucson police officers confronted the crowd in riot gear.

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