by Cynthia Guillen
On August 22, 2017, I arrived in downtown Phoenix, Arizona to do something I’ve done since I was 17 years old.
I’ve been going to protests since high school. My principal encouraged me to participate in peaceful demonstrations and make my voice heard. Since then, I’ve been an active participant in demonstrations around the valley.
When I learned that President Trump was going to host a rally downtown, I—like many others around Arizona and the country—wanted to exercise my First Amendment rights and protest his racist and anti-immigrant policies.
Looking back, it’s clear that Phoenix police had a different plan for protestors that night.
I arrived at around 5:30pm and noticed that when we hear that the Trump speech may be ending, more officers began appearing to line the streets with riot gear and bulletproof vests.
I was confused – why were police dressed for battle? Why was the number of officers multiplying? Demonstrators were peaceful and were ready to deliver their message to the president and his supporters.
Suddenly, at around 8:30 p.m., the police instigated chaos. Standing in the crowd, I didn’t hear any warnings before Phoenix police fired tear gas into the crowd of peaceful protestors. I still didn’t hear any warnings or dispersal orders as people began running away from the Phoenix police’s sudden attack.
I was in disbelief. I began to record the Phoenix police actions as people hurried from the area. My friend and I tried to guide people away from the panic Phoenix police caused. Suddenly, Phoenix police pointed their weapons in my direction and began to fire. As I turned to flee the area, an officer fired a projectile that hit me in my left hip.
The projectile hit me with so much force I was unable to walk. Phoenix police fired tear gas and smoke bombs into the immediate area where I and other peaceful protesters were standing. Why? My area was completely peaceful. The impact of what felt like a metal projectile knocked the wind out of me. My friend had to help keep me on my feet to run from the attack. It took me 15 minutes before I could regain my breath and gain enough strength to walk again. The pain was unlike anything I’ve ever felt before.
The projectile broke the skin and gave me a bruise larger than the size of my hand. I was unable to move without pain for a few days. I even had to leave work early a few times in the days after the rally because the pain was too much to bear.
The force and behavior that Phoenix police exhibited that night still shocks me. I never expected to be treated with such violence for exercising my First Amendment rights. We were gassed and I was senselessly shot with projectiles.
Without significant reform to the Phoenix Police Department policies and practices regarding their use of force against peaceful protestors like me, how can I, or the community ever feel safe protesting or demonstrating in Phoenix again?
I am afraid to protest in the future because the lingering pain from that night will always haunt me as something the Phoenix Police caused me before, and could cause again. My trust in the Phoenix Police Department has been broken. I used to hold them in the highest regard and praise them at every chance. Their actions that night destroyed my years of loyalty to — and confidence in — the department.
That’s why I joined with other individuals and two organizations to file a lawsuit against the City of Phoenix. I am disappointed in Phoenix police actions that night and want to make sure that they never use unlawful violence against a peaceful crowd of demonstrators again.
Phoenix police officers must protect our rights and so they must be held accountable. If you were at the anti-Trump rally on August 22, 2017, at approximately 8:30 p.m., please fill out the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arizona’s questionnaire about your experience – https://action.aclu.org/legal-intake/az-trumpqnr or call the ACLU Arizona at 602-650-1854. It will help the ACLU and Hadsell Stormer & Renick LLP, who are representing me and others in our lawsuit against Phoenix, make sure the Phoenix Police Department is held responsible for their excessive use of force.
Cynthia Guillen is a plaintiff in the ACLU of Arizona’s lawsuit against the City of Phoenix, Chief of Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams and a number of Phoenix police officers for violating anti-Trump protestors’ First Amendment rights.
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