When an issue cuts deep to the core of America’s soul, change may be afoot.
A renewed passion and energy to demand social change appears to be permeating its way through Scottsdale, as community leaders and residents bring the national conversation about race and equality to the door step of The West’s Most Western Town.
The conversations of equality and race amid hundreds of protests across the nation was localized by allegedly insensitive comments made by Scottsdale Councilman Guy Phillips a one month after George Floyd’s death. After Mr. Floyd died while in police custody, an estimated half a million American citizens look to the streets to stand up for race equality.
Throughout June and July, Scottsdale community leaders publicly affirmed their commitment to equality and diversity. A handful of conversations and ideas have emerged in the wake of Scottsdale becoming a part of the national spotlight.
From planned community forums, to a potential Town Hall, to the first Juneteenth celebration in Scottsdale’s history --- a focus is being placed on listening to black residents.
The black population in Scottsdale accounts for only 2% of all citizens, which equates to 5,100 of 255,000, based on the most recent U.S. Census estimates.
Despite the community being made up of 81% white residents, a call to action is being felt across the city, as many allies are offering support.
While efforts to re-evaluate and affirm the community’s values is picking up steam, it is important to point out no significant issues have been brought forward or are being championed, Scottsdale resident and Human Relations Commissioner Conay Huizar says.
“It’s just not something that we encounter that much in Scottsdale; however, there are things that are there and we have to be mindful of them,” Ms. Huizar said, pointing out a couple of incidents that occurred this summer which she called “microaggressions.”
“We are America. We are supposed to be leaders, and we still have these issues going on in 2020. People want answers.”
Meanwhile, national conversations that residents may be hearing --- like the idea to defund local police departments --- is not the right answer for Scottsdale, former detective and law enforcement professional Jim Hill says.
“It would be a disaster,” Mr. Hill said. “When people say to ‘defund the police’ they think the police department has an endless bucket of money that they throw around everywhere, when mostly it’s taken up by personnel costs. Quite frankly, there’s not enough cops on the street.”
Scottsdale Police Department is set to receive $100 million in funding for fiscal year 2020-21, the newly-approved municipal budget shows. This is a $6 million decrease from last year --- yet it’s still the largest department funded through the General Fund, records show.
SPD officials say they are authorized to have 400 sworn officers; it was reported that as of May 26, the department has 378 fully-trained, sworn officers.
On a typical Saturday night, there are roughly 68 officers allocated to work across the city, with 26 specifically in District 2, officials say.
The Human Relations Commission is in the planning stages of a Town Hall event, and possibly an online-only beta event, to hear the community’s thoughts and opinions on race.
“In light of all the racial disharmony, the commission thought a Town Hall would be a great way to let our community weigh in and figure out what our citizens are thinking,” Ms. Huizar explained. “Even though this is a discussion on a national level, we wanted to dial in down to our community and see what’s going on in Scottsdale.”
Ms. Huizar points out she doesn’t know what the community feedback will be --- but she personally doesn’t feel unwelcome in Scottsdale.
“Being an African American person that lives in Scottsdale, I have to be honest with you, I don’t experience any type of racism here,” she said.
“I think the conversation will be held more on the national level. By the time you get to Scottsdale, there are other social constructs that may affect you --- living in Scottsdale, we live in a cocoon. You may not realize what’s going on in the rest of the world. Not everyone is privileged to have great schools, great libraries --- things we have, a lot of people don’t have.”
Ms. Huizar says in preparing for the Town Hall, the commission requested a report from the police department on hate crimes in the past six months --- she said the report showed there were zero crimes reported, but she did point out that incidents still happen. This summer, a black man was reportedly attacked by a group of white men at a Scottsdale park, who were calling him racial slurs.
While it was reported as a possible hate crime, the police department considered the man to be emotionally unstable, Ms. Huizar explained.
Another incident occurred when a man wearing a face mask with President Trump’s logo on it was verbally attacked at a Scottsdale store.
“The City of Scottsdale, our mission is to promote inclusion and diversity. I think we’re going to have to really dial in to promote that inclusion part of it. The inclusion part looks different than diversity --- diversity is easy. We can say OK, this person may be gay, in a wheel chair, have white skin or black skin. That’s easy thing to engulf those people in,” she said.
“The inclusion part requires a lot more because now I have to deal with ideology. We have to be really careful that when we’re promoting inclusion we don’t just dial in on what we want people to think. I think when we have this town hall, our hopes are that we will be able to hear from our citizens and they will be able to tell us what they need us to promote more for Scottsdale. I’m hoping, we’re hoping, that more people will begin to listen to that message of the golden rule and start to go through the city and be able to engage people through that campaign.”
While donning a Black Lives Matter T-shirt underneath a plaid blazer, Rev. Dr. Warren H. Stewart Sr., chairman of the African American Christian Clergy Coalition, was one of several local leaders a part of a Bridge Forum in Scottsdale this summer.
Talking about community and policing, the forum set the stage for local ideas and change to be brought forward. Included on the Bridge Forum, hosted by HeroZona Foundation was representatives from several black organizations, elected leaders, municipal representatives and Police Chief Alan Rodbell.
In an important topic discussed at the forum was how the 2020 protests are greater in size and duration than previous civil rights protests. The New York Times, based on poll data, says this summer’s protests are reaching new heights in American history.
“One of the differences is the diversity of those who are marching. There’s always been white allies with the civil rights movement, but not a rainbow constituency that we’ve seen in these marches around the nation,” Dr. Stewart said. “That gives us hope that many people beyond African Americans and people of color see this as an issue that is urgent and needs to be addressed today.”
Armonee Jackson, president of the Arizona Youth and College NAACP, outlined the difference between the 21st Century protests and historic movements.
“Social media is a huge thing for us,” Ms. Jackson said.
“That’s one of the biggest platforms we’ve been using to make sure our voices are heard to see the changes we want to see. I also think, people don’t talk about this enough, but bridging the gap between my generation and older generations --- because there’s so many things that I can learn from you guys, and you can learn from us with the things we’re experiencing.”
Ms. Jackson says while the two movements are very similar, there are aspects happening now that older adults may not understand.
“One of the biggest things is doing what you can, with what you have, with where you’re at,” Ms. Jackson said. “Having these conversations --- it’s one thing for me to have conversations with my generation, but we all already know what’s going on. It’s another thing to sit and have conversations with those of you who are apart of the older generations --- there’s so many things I can learn form you guys to make this movement more impactful to create the change that we’re seeking.”
President of the East Valley NAACP, Roy Tatem Jr., says in the conservative state of Arizona, if saying the phrase “Black Lives Matter” gives you pause, there’s a problem.
“You’ve got to identify what the problem is. Because there are people who will not say Black Lives Matter for one reason or another. Either, black lives don’t matter to you, or there’s a political agenda --- or you feel that the term Black Lives Matter is a political agenda,” Mr. Tatem Jr. said.
Mr. Tatem Jr. carried a book with him to the forum called Policing the Black Man, which he said he brings to meetings with law enforcement the NAACP has been conducting for the past five years.
“... I always bring this book to keep the main issue on the table, because we can talk about murals, we can talk about who said what, who said this --- but if we’re not addressing the main issue of policing, we get lost,” Mr. Tatem Jr. said.
“We find ourselves having these conversations five, 10, 20, 30 years later.”
A major piece of the Black Lives Matter movement is focused on policing. Many armchair experts have given their ideas on how to “fix” police departments around the country --- with the most vocal idea being to take funding from police departments and funnel it into other community needs, such as youth or education programs.
Jim Hill, a former Scottsdale Police Department detective, points out many police departments are already operating on low budgets --- and taking more money out would not solve any perceived problems.
Mr. Hill’s suggestion: focus on community policing.
He admits that manpower has been cut drastically over the past 10-15 years, pointing to the mantra of “do more with less” that emerged during the Great Recession.
“It has curtailed community policing,” Mr. Hill said of budget cuts. “You can have Coffee with a Cop once or twice a month and department’s will say that’s community policing. When community policing was actually boots on the ground, in the neighborhood, talking to people to understand what’s going on. You can’t do that with the way they budget resources now.”
Mr. Hill advises to look at how much community time is allotted per officer, per shift.
“You will find out no one does it,” Mr. Hill said, anecdotally.
He points to how long answering calls for service take, with paperwork or any additional requirements.
“These guys have become attached to the hip to the computer in their car that just generates call after call after call, so there’s no time to get out and hang out,” he said.
The Scottsdale Police Department, through it’s public information officers, answered questions about community policing for Independent Newsmedia. A live interview with Chief Rodbell or another official was unavailable, officials told the Independent in June.
Officer Kevin Watts says in his response to questions that community policing is done through partnerships the department has created with groups and the public.
“The partnerships created allows for the development of strategies to address crime. The men and women of the Scottsdale Police Department routinely work with area business groups, community organizations and individual citizens to provide world class community policing and meet the needs of our citizens,” Mr. Watts said.
“Additionally, the Scottsdale Police Department has five community engagement groups. Each of the four districts community engagement groups is representative of community members from their district. Chief Rodbell chairs the fifth group, which is made up of representatives of the district groups as well as other at-large community representatives.”
To the point about funding and budgets, Mr. Watts appears to be in-line with what Mr. Hill opined.
“The most apparent impact in recent years has been reduction in staffing and funding available for training,” he said.