Photos by Evie Carpenter
“Gas masks!” people shouted back and forth, relaying the message across a human wall and warning each other that the police, shields out and masks on, were prepared to use force. Protesters braced themselves, ready to sprint and retreat.
Green and purple clouds lingered over the road an hour later and a sweet but toxic smell seeped through the shirts people held over their mouths. Picket signs with crossed out swastikas lay discarded on the sidewalk.
Protesters and journalists, including multiple ASU students, sat on the ground coughing after about 50 Phoenix police officers used tear gas and pepper spray to create a clearing for neo-Nazi marchers on West Jefferson Street around 3 p.m. on Saturday.
The standoff began when about 100 protesters formed a blockade to stop 40 to 50 National Socialist Movement marchers from reaching the Sandra Day O’Connor U.S. Courthouse at North Fourth Avenue and Washington Street.
Some student journalists got too close to the action as police used force to scatter the protesters.
Journalism freshman Mauro Whiteman was covering the protest for State Press Television when a police officer pepper sprayed him in the side of the face. Later during the march, a canister of tear gas went off near him, and he was pulled aside by medics, who used a mixture of vinegar and milk to treat his eyes.
“I was crying,” Whiteman said. “I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I had contacts in, which apparently is really bad.”
Whiteman was filming from the sidewalk to stay out of the way of the police when he was sprayed. Since he was not blocking their path when he was pepper sprayed, Whiteman said he felt he was “more or less assaulted by the police.”
“I think they were in the wrong when it started affecting people who were not blocking the road, people who were not unlawfully assembling, especially members of the media,” Whiteman said.
Police had to use tear gas after protesters threw rocks and cans at the marchers, Phoenix Police Department spokesman Sgt. Tommy Thompson said. The protesters also put nails on the road and made a barricade of newspaper stands.
Thompson said two protesters, Dane Edward Rossman, 23, and Bryan Wayne Reavely, 24, were arrested and charged with five and four counts of aggravated assault, respectively.
Several neo-Nazi marchers had minor injuries after being pelted with rocks, but no one was hospitalized, Thompson said. One ambulance was at the scene.
Protesters gathered for the blockade around 1 p.m. at South Eighth Avenue and East Jefferson Street, where they lobbed cans over the line of police officers at the neo-Nazis before the march began. Police used shields, tear gas, pepper spray and paintball guns to keep a distance between the two groups.
Protesters followed the marchers down Jefferson Street and the police continued to use tear gas until the marchers made it to the courthouse.
The neo-Nazis had a permit to march to the courthouse, but the protesters had no permit or right to stop the marchers, Thompson said.
“Whether we agree with someone or not, we have to protect their rights,” Thompson said. “You have one group that is there to voice their opinions and another that’s there to try to stop them. As police, our job is to uphold the Constitution.”
Police remained after the march to keep protesters away from the neo-Nazis as they gathered outside the courthouse.
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