Mesa braces for unrest after pro-Arpaio demonstration
Arizona Republic
April 10, 2008


Mesa police boss seeks clergy, community help

Mesa Police Chief George Gascón, citing growing concerns over possible civil unrest tied to anti-illegal immigration sweeps by Sheriff Joe Arpaio, is stepping up efforts to ensure public safety, including reaching out to clergy and the legal community for help.

Gascón told his staff in a memo Thursday that the department is developing a plan to handle potential civil unrest or demonstrations tied to sweeps by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.

The memo came after a Thursday morning demonstration by 15 pro-Arpaio demonstrators at Gilbert and Broadway roads in a heavily immigrant part of Mesa. During what Gascón called a “mostly lawful demonstration,” one of the protesters got into a verbal altercation with a Black male. The argument escalated and Gascón said the demonstrator called the man “homie” and used the “N” word. Another

It is unclear whether the demonstrators, who were mostly male, belonged to an organized group.

“This incident, as well as others during prior sweeps, are clear indications of the volatility that can be visited upon our city as these events continue to unfold,” Gascón wrote. “Counter demonstrators have been observed carrying firearms, and tensions are escalating.”

Gascón's plan would include clergy and members of the legal community serving as mediators with the crowds. He said demonstrations would be videotaped.

Sgt. Fabian Cota, head of the Mesa Police Association, one of two police unions, said Gascón is preparing for the worst, “but we are hoping for the best.”

“If you look at the potential for violence with people showing up with guns on both sides of the aisle in such an emotional issue and you add racial overtones, that is all the ingredients for civil unrest,” he said.

Cota said officers were recently told to make sure all their equipment was working properly including gas masks in the event of demonstrations.

MCSO Chief of Enforcement Brian Sands said the office is offended by Gascón's reaction.

“Why is he editorializing in a memo and then releasing it to the media and not calling the sheriff,” Sands said, adding he has not seen any unruly protesters or major incidents in eight crime suppression patrols.

On Tuesday, Gascón wrote to Arpaio after eight state legislators invited the sheriff to conduct immigration sweeps in the East Valley. Gascón asked for at least two days' notice, including time and location, before the sheriff conducted sweeps. He also requested liaisons between the two law enforcement agencies.

Arpaio on Wednesday said he would take the chief's letter into consideration but said he already notifies agencies in advance of any crime suppression sweeps.

However, Arpaio's deputies made two unannounced visits to Mesa in November, touching off a brief war of words between the agencies.