Trial Set for Flagstaff Indigenous Peoples’ Day Demonstrators Organizers Denounce Political Attack and State Surveillance
Contact: Klee Benally
FLAGSTAFF, Arizona — Three social and environmental justice advocates, calling themselves the “Indigenous Peoples’ Day Three” or IPD3, will be going to trial on January 16th, 2020 from 8:30am - 4:30pm and Friday, January 17th 1:30pm - 4:30pm at the Flagstaff Municipal Court (15 N Beaver St, Flagstaff, AZ 86001) for charges resulting from a 2018 Indigenous Peoples’ Day demonstration held in Flagstaff, Arizona.
On October 8, 2018, the same day that the City of Flagstaff formally announced their celebration of Indigenous Peoples' Day, more than 40 people rallied and marched through Downtown Flagstaff to denounce the City of Flagstaff’s “hypocritical” and "empty" declaration. The rally was held as a call for justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, to highlight the criminalization of migrants that leads to mass deportations and detentions, for accountability of the City of Flagstaff for their role in desecrating the San Francisco Peaks, ending criminalization of unsheltered community members, and to address the disproportionate level of racial profiling and arrests Indigenous people face.
Nearly a dozen Flagstaff police officers used body cameras to specifically monitor and document the demonstration. Flagstaff Police Department and the Gang and Immigration Intelligence Task Force then launched a weeks-long investigation that used social media and an unidentified informant to file misdemeanor criminal charges of “Obstructing a Public Thoroughfare.” A total of eleven people were initially charged. Seven of those charged agreed to a plea deal with the option of 40 hours of community service or paying a $150 fine.
Klee Benally, a longtime Indigenous rights advocate in Flagstaff and one of the three facing trial states, “We are facing a blatant political attack by law enforcement agents here in Flagstaff that includes a disturbing level of state surveillance. That we are being targeted and criminalized for fighting for justice in our community underscores the hypocrisy of an Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebration here in Flagstaff. Politicians here want to celebrate while they cover-up their role in the killing of Indigenous cultures with their contract to sell 180 million gallons of wastewater for snowmaking on the holy San Francisco Peaks. They look away while extreme racial profiling, Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids, deportations, and police violence is occurring. They disregard cries from the unsheltered community to end their anti-homeless policies. We will not be silenced by state repression, we will continue to stand and fight for justice for the land and all people. That’s really what this trial is about.” states Benally.
Sumayyah Dawud, a human rights activist living in Phoenix, Arizona (Akimel O’Otham territory) who is facing trial states, “It is highly hypocritical for the City of Flagstaff to pretend to honor Indigenous peoples by designating a holiday yet conduct extreme surveillance and file charges against Indigenous people for marching on their own land. This is a continuation of over 500 years of colonialism. It is appalling how the Flagstaff Police Department in conjunction with other law enforcement agencies has combed through social media and used other surveillance techniques to identify and prosecute activists engaging in freedom of speech and assembly. The surveillance involved in this case is tainted with racial profiling, transphobia, and other forms of prejudice. As someone who has faced surveillance and prosecution for attending protests in Phoenix and elsewhere, I am deeply concerned with the implications this political attack by the City of Flagstaff has in chilling dissent. These unfounded and unjust charges need to be dropped. The City needs to take meaningful action to honor Indigenous peoples and end injustices rather than providing token recognition in the form of a holiday. Regardless of the outcome of this trial, I will continue to fight for justice, liberation, and equality.”
Alejandra Becerra, a former organizer with Repeal Coalition who is facing trial, sees this a tactical move by Flagstaff Police Department and the Arizona Department of Public Safety to silence increased scrutiny from local community about the obscured racism and injustice of their policies. Three weeks before the Indigenous Day Protest, three women were arrested after chaining themselves to the Flagstaff Police Department’s parking lot in protest of the city and county’s collaboration with ICE. This put a spotlight on how local law enforcement has a key role of criminalizing and funneling loved ones into the violent detention system that separates families in the Flagstaff community. “I spoke in front of the same officers who took an incredible amount of effort to charge people with tickets and again emphasized how they are the common denominator in the disproportionate caging of Indigenous people and the mass deportation system that disappears undocumented people. Who and what are they protecting? Because as an immigrant, as a mother, as an individual who cares about social justice, I don’t feel safe.” states Becerra.
According to yearly police reports, Flagstaff police arrest on average approximately 6,000 people annually. About half of those arrests are Indigenous People yet they only comprise about 11% of the overall population.
A recently published article by The Progressive (https://progressive.org/
“This is clearly an act designed to intimidate protesters and chill speech,” stated Gibbons. “Police were on hand and apparently did not see anything to justify an attempt to prevent or stop the protesters from blocking traffic, making these after-the-fact arrests completely absurd.”
Gibbons further stated how concerned he was that surveillance technology was used to enable these arrests.
“Body cameras, which were supposed to be a tool of policy accountability, were transformed into a tool of surveillance,” he says. “Coupled with social media monitoring, police were then able to identify and issue court summons for protesters. The message this sends is clear: If you engage in political expression, police know who you are and know how to find you.”
Gibbons sees this as part of “an alarming national trend,” which has also included social media monitoring of local protests groups by police in Boston, Memphis, and Baltimore.
“We know from the public record that the FBI has continuously surveilled or monitored social movements or questioned activists from those movements,” Gibbons says, “including racial justice movements, Standing Rock water protesters, and Occupy ICE activists.”
The IPD3 are calling for support in the courtroom and a rally before trial on January 16th, 2020 from 8:30am - 4:30pm and Friday, January 17th from 1:30pm - 4:30pm.
They have also initiated a crowdfunding campaign to pay for legal expenses here: www.gofundme.com/f/support-
You can also help spread awareness leading up to the trial using the hashtags: #indigenouspeoplesdayFlagstaff #supportIPD3
Organizers of the initial Indigenous Peoples’ Day rally called for these immediate actions:
• continued boycott of Arizona Snowbowl and for the City of Flagstaff to cancel their contract with the ski resort,
• end to racial profiling & ICE collaboration and further work to abolish police in our communities by establishing community support networks and transformative/restorative justice options,
• repeal the anti-camping ordinance and all anti-homeless policies,
• donations of sleeping bags and winter clothing for unsheltered relatives at Táala Hooghan Infoshop (1704 N 2nd St),
You can read more about the October 8, 2018 action here: www.indigenousaction.org/land-