Controversy surrounding local police funding drew crowds of protesters and counter-protesters outside of Flagstaff City Hall on Monday evening.
The initial protest took place just before Flagstaff City Council was scheduled to hold a special meeting to discuss police funding and operations in the city.
Mayor Paul Deasy called for the special meeting last week as city officials continued budget talks for the upcoming fiscal year, which had sparked increased public interest in the police department’s funding.
Deasy acknowledged the protest groups and asked for the demonstrations to remain peaceful.
“I urge everyone to remain non-violent. I urge everyone to stay safe. We can have this discussion without wanton violence,” Deasy said in a tweet Monday morning.
Policing has been under heavy scrutiny across the nation following the conviction of Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer who was convicted for the murder of George Floyd by a jury last week.
The Flagstaff “Defund Rally,” organized by the progressive political group FlagStats, began this afternoon as a small protest decrying local police violence. Protesters joined in chants such as “no justice, no peace, no racist police,” as they held up signs to passing cars.
“We collectively advocate that our police department and all police departments be defunded, and that a meaningful investment be made in addressing the harms of race- and class-based violence,” FlagStats said in a statement to the Arizona Daily Sun.
In the days leading up to the meeting, FlagStats urged public commenters to take part in Council’s policing discussion and support an effort to reallocate police funds to other social services. The group has called for the reduction of the Flagstaff Police Department’s budget by 55%.
But as the evening progressed, a group of counter-protesters began to gather on the opposite side of the city hall lawn. Dozens of residents had accumulated in support of the police department by the time the council meeting was already underway.
Those in opposition of police defunding contend that the department is already undermanned and underpaid. FPD Police Chief Dan Musselman echoed these concerns.
“The number of police officers serving the Flagstaff community in comparison to the amount of violent and property crime already presents some challenges,” Musselman told the Arizona Daily Sun.
Officers with the Flagstaff Police Department flanked the two crowds during the demonstrations, occasionally intervening to break up verbal disputes. As tensions rose, a police line was formed to create a “neutral zone” between the two crowds.
Arizona State Senator Wendy Rogers attended the counter-protest, advocating on social media for the police department to remain “fully funded.”
According to the statement from FlagStats, protesters gathered Monday to demand defunding in a step “towards complete abolition” and to “show our solidarity with defund efforts across the nation.” Organizers alleged the department disproportionately targets minority groups.
For more on the council's special meeting Monday night, see Wednesday's Arizona Daily Sun.