Saturday morning, February 8th, dawned bright, sunny and warm. Flagstaff had “Dew Downtown” a skiing and snowboarding event sponsored primarily by Mountain Dew. (It is tempting to comment that a company putting out a poisonous soft drink of course will not think twice about putting on an poisonous event) During this event the city of Flagstaff chose to spend 300,000 gallons of drinking water to create a fake snow hill on a street downtown so they could have a competition.
Last year Indigenous Navajo people and other environmentally conscious people had demonstrated this event with a prayer vigil and drums. At one point a drunk participant in the event assaulted two children and attempted to destroy their drums. The police and later the city council refused to charge this drunk – white – person for assault. Please note – all demonstrations done by the Navajo people are peaceful.
Prior to this years event plain clothes police officers showed up at the Info Center I stayed at, as well as a private home to intimidate my hosts against going out to demonstrate at the event.
Because the police showed up to try and intimidate my hosts they decided to do an demonstration this year as well, and it seemed to me to be a worthy cause so I planned to join the fray. I was also very worried about the obvious freedom of speech issues with apparently an “free speech zone” and the attempts at intimidation by the police I had already witnessed.
Dew Downtown is a rather baffling use of a very precious resource in the desert – water. Flagstaff currently experiences drought conditions with the city forecast to run out of water within 50 years – yet the city feels this is an appropriate (ab)use of water. Even more surprising – as apparently the city does not make a lot of money on this event.
About 15 of us gathered on a lawn with signs and banners before we walked towards the event. We made it to a cross section by San Francisco St and Birch, the event was going on right in front of us on San Francisco St. The cops of course were out in force, saw us coming, and it was easy to spot the tensions both in the cops body languages and in my crowd.
We stood on the corner for a while with our signs and then we decided to try and head up San Francisco St, and that is where we were stopped by the cops. The cops explained to us that we were not allowed with banners on San Francisco St due to the special use permit in effect. The explanation of the cops was that the public side walk was privately owned during the event and we would be trespassing with our signs. It was made clear to us that we would be arrested for trespassing and disorderly conduct if we took our signs up there.
While a couple of us were talking with the cops Klee walked up San Francisco St with his sign while the cops were distracted. I must admit it made me giggle. A couple of other people put down their signs and discreetly followed him to see what would happen. Apparently Klee had a conversation with mayor Jerry Nabours about the event. It wasn’t a friendly conversation, and at the end of it Jerry Nabours were heard uttering: “You are not welcome here” to Klee – Klee is Navajo so the discrimination is rather obvious and blatant. At this point Klee was escorted, under threat of arrest, by two burly and surly police officers back to us on the corner of Birch and San Francisco.
Shortly after I started to wonder how well they intended to enforce their ban of signs on San Francisco St. I had someone tape one of our banners on my back, and then I started to walk up San Francisco. I was low key, didn’t work to attract attention, but I walked the banner up and down San Francisco St several times – and the cops left me – a white woman – alone. Klee an Navajo male was threatened with arrest, and made “not welcome” in his own town by the mayor. The legal term I believe is “selective enforcement”.
I even had a conversation with an officer while wearing the sign. I had managed to lighten the mood between me and the officers previously with some kidding around. This officer laughed and warned me I was stretching the limits of what was acceptable. I laughed back and agreed with him. Then we also both agreed that if anyone could get away with it, it was me. Again, white person get’s away with it. Navajo person – threats of arrest.
After the demonstration there was a pot luck dinner back at the info shop – a separate article all it’s own.
A few days later we learned that the special use permit did NOT include the sidewalks. The side walks were NOT designated private property for this event and our first amendment rights were clearly violated when the cops prevented us from going up that street with our signs.
Then Klee and I headed to a council meeting. Klee wanted to document the civil rights violations and discrimination. I wanted to observe and learn more about what was happening in this town. What I saw horrified me . At one point three Latina’s with a translator spoke in turn. Apparently a trailer park is closing and many low income people are losing their homes. The Latinas were eloquent and emotional as the evictions seemed to have already been decided.
As I listened to the Latinas and looked at the city council I saw several men smirk and smile, and at first I felt shock. I looked and listened a little longer and it started to dawn on me that this was a horribly biased city counsel. 10 counsel members – 7 were white men over 50. 3 were women, and only two of the ten council members were of color.
Those smirks and smiles while the Latinas were speaking made me furious, and I finally realized just how blatant, overt and disgusting the discrimination is in Flagstaff. The mayor actually managed to tell an Indigenous person “you are not welcome here”. If that wasn’t enough to wake me up to the discrimination seeing the giggles while women were in tears over losing their homes certainly did. I felt my heart pound faster as anger moved through me.
Not surprisingly the white male city council also seemed to think it was worth smirking over when Klee stood up to talk about the civil rights violations and the environmental destruction of “dew downtown”. These were not humans on the city council. They were arrogant and demeaning people who thought themselves so much above and beyond anyone with less money or of some other than white decent.
I finally had enough. I was beyond furious, and when given a chance I stood up to say something about what I had observed. I wasn’t surprised when the smirks and smiles turned to outright laughter as I called them on their obvious bigotry.
Ladies and Gentlemen, that is what I saw. Obvious, blatant and unapologetic discrimination run disgustingly rampant in Flagstaff.
Apparently environmentally irresponsible behavior, oppression of freedom of speech and overt discrimination is funny in the city of Flagstaff.
I hope you will join me in outrage and let the city of Flagstaff know – discrimination in the United States in 2014 is unacceptable.
Mayor Jerry Nabours, this message is directly to you. I doubt that you have enough conscience to feel shame at such obvious discrimination. I promise to do my best to expose what I have seen in Flagstaff, and you can be certain that in the rest of the US blatant and overt discrimination is not acceptable behavior.