Phoenix, AZ – Fifteen rioters have been indicted on charges of assisting a criminal street gang in the wake of violent attacks on Phoenix police last month.
The chaos erupted in downtown Phoenix on Oct. 17, when a group of rioters began throwing barricades into the roadway while marching in the street, The Arizona Republic reported at the time.
According to police, members of the group hurled “incendiary devices that emitted smoke” at officers near 10th Avenue and Van Buren Street at approximately 8 p.m.
The rioters also allegedly damaged a marked patrol vehicle while knocking over barricades, The Arizona Republic reported.
The Phoenix Police Department (PPD) declared an unlawful assembly about a half hour later, but the rioters refused to disperse, PPD spokesperson Sergeant Ann Justus told the paper.
“As officers began making arrests, another incendiary device was thrown at them,” Sgt. Justus said. “Due to the ongoing criminal activity and assault, the Phoenix Police deployed less lethal munitions in order to safely make arrests.”
The rioters used black umbrellas in a failed attempt to keep police at bay.
Two teens and 15 adults were arrested by the time the mayhem was over, The Arizona Republic reported.
Two of the suspects police arrested had also been arrested during previous recent protests.
The group was initially charged with offenses including obstructing a thoroughfare, unlawful assembly, and rioting, the Phoenix New Times reported.
The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office charged 15 of those suspects with the offense of assisting a criminal street gang last week, according to KNXV.
According to Arizona statute, “a person commits assisting a criminal street gang by committing any felony offense, whether completed or preparatory for the benefit of, at the direction of or in association with any criminal street gang.”
Use of a “common name or common identifying sign or symbol” may be used as evidence supporting “the existence of a criminal street gang” under the law.
During a recent bond hearing, prosecutors alleged that the gang charges were based upon the rioters’ use of umbrellas, their all-black clothing, and their joint chant of “all cops are bastards,” KNXV reported.
Anti-police activist Viri Hernandez said the charges are “messed up” and “wrong.”
“It is not criminal gang activity to protest the police department that we pay millions and millions of dollars to exist,” said Hernandez, director of Poder in Action.
She further alleged that police and prosecutors have been “targeting” protesters, according to KSAZ.
“We’re also demanding from this mayor and this police chief an end to the political prosecution that is happening. An end to the targeting of activists they do not agree with,” Hernandez added.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona also chimed in, calling the felony charges “baseless,” KNXV reported.
“The right to free speech is fundamental,” the ACLU declared. “Baseless arrests and prosecutions aimed at preventing free speech are an abuse of power and cannot be tolerated. Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel must answer for this.”
W.E. Rising Project spokesperson Jacob Raiford said the charges are nothing more than an attempt to silence anti-police protesters, KSAZ reported.
“This is political imprisonment, and we demand that these charges be dropped,” Raiford told the news outlet. “We understand that these are just trumped-up charges meant to suppress a movement.”