Protesters got into minor scuffles and shouting matches with U.S. President Donald Trump supporters on Tuesday, as hundreds of people lined up to get inside a Phoenix, Ariz., rally that marks his first political event since the violence in Charlottesville, Va.
Phoenix leaders are on high alert in the aftermath of the deadly protests in Virginia and the president’s comments last week about both sides having blame for violence at the white supremacist rally. Mayor Greg Stanton called on the president to not hold the rally at the Phoenix Convention Center so soon after the trouble in Charlottesville.
‘We need to raise our voices against Trump’s racism, assaults on civil rights, horrific border wall and attacks on public lands…’– Tucson vice-mayor Regina Romero
Trump fans wearing red “Make America Great Again” hats waited in line hours before the event. At one point, a Trump supporter and protester shoved each other. In another exchange, the two groups shouted at each other before moving on. Police officers later formed a line in the middle of a street separating the protesters and Trump supporters.
State Democratic leaders urged people who want to show their opposition to the president’s policies to gather at a city-designated free speech zone near the site of the Phoenix Convention Center rally. State Democratic Party chair Alexis Tameron joined other party leaders in urging peaceful protests.
The message to protesters echoed those coming from law enforcement and Mayor Stanton. Stanton said he expects protesters to be “civil, respectful and peaceful.” Police Chief Jeri Williams says First Amendment rights will be supported but criminal conduct will be swiftly addressed.
Some Trump supporters arrive before dawn
Tucson vice-mayor Regina Romero told reporters at a Tuesday morning news conference organized by the Mi Familia Vota organization that the groups “refuse to idly stand by while Trump destroys everything America stands for.”
“We need to raise our voices against Trump’s racism, assaults on civil rights, horrific border wall and attacks on public lands, our environment and working families,” Romero said.
Meanwhile, several hundred Trump supporters were lined up at the downtown convention centre, with some arriving before dawn for the 7 p.m. local time rally.
“It’s been on a bucket list of mine, since he became the president,” said Kingman resident Diane Treon, who arrived at 4 p.m. “I wished I had attended one of his campaign rallies before he became president and I wanted to go to the inauguration. And truthfully it was the protests that kept me away.”
Treon said she wishes protesters “would be a little more peaceful instead of violently rioting, which is happening in so many places” but isn’t overly worried.
“I don’t think the Phoenix Police are going to stand down and throw us out in the wind,” she said. “I really think they’re going to keep us safe.”
Pardon ruled out for controversial sheriff
One potential flashpoint was extinguished when the White House ruled out a pardon, at least for now, for Joe Arpaio, former sheriff of Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix.
The president had earlier held out the possibility of a pardon for Arpaio, an outspoken opponent of illegal immigration who once billed himself as “the toughest sheriff in America.”
Arpaio, 85, was found guilty last month of criminal contempt for violating the terms of a 2011 court order in a racial profiling case. Immigrant rights advocates had criticized a potential pardon.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said a pardon was off the table for the time being.
“There will be no discussion of that today at any point, and no action will be taken on that front at any point today,” Sanders told reporters travelling with Trump.