Flagstaff, AZ — Criminal charges have been dismissed for three of the eleven demonstrators targeted for their involvement in a 2018 Indigenous Peoples’ Day protest in Flagstaff, Arizona.
Ale Becerra, Klee Benally, and Sumayyah Dawud, also known as the “Indigenous Peoples’ Day 3” (IPD3), opted to fight the charges rejecting any guilty plea or diversion agreement.
Klee Benally, a longtime Indigenous rights advocate in Flagstaff states, “I want to thank everyone who supported all of us who faced these absurd charges for their solidarity. Your calls to the City and continued dedication to fight for justice for the land and people had an impact. Flagstaff politicians declared ‘Indigenous Peoples’ Day’ then tried to lock us up when we stood for justice. They dedicated vast resources to investigate and prosecute us yet we continued to stand our ground and we prevailed. Today we are vindicated in our actions but we do not celebrate victory. That Flagstaff police and police throughout occupied Turtle Island continue to target and kill Black and Brown people with impunity gives us no cause for celebration. That the injustices perpetrated by the City of Flagstaff: the blatant profiteering off of the killing of Indigenous cultures, the extreme racial profiling and violence, and criminalization of unsheltered relatives continues during this pandemic is nothing to celebrate. We celebrate the uprisings of Black Lives Matter and the anti-colonial actions that go beyond empty reforms and meaningless gestures from politicians. We celebrate and continue to build momentum for justice for the land and all people.”
Sumayyah Dawud, a human rights activist living in Phoenix, AZ (Akimel O’Otham territory) states, “I am pleased with the fact that the City of Flagstaff did the right thing by dropping these charges. However, they never should have been filed in the first place nor should we have had to go through nearly two years of prosecution. This is not a victory. I am appalled at the fact that the day Flagstaff declared ‘Indigenous Peoples’ Day’ that Flagstaff Police aggressively followed and targeted Indigenous people marching on their own land, using extreme surveillance, and engaging in selective prosecution for speaking out against the many forms of anti-Indigenous oppression and violence the City refuses to stop participating in let alone even acknowledge. The City needs to take actual action and not just engage in meaningless rhetoric. The targeting of Indigenous and other protesters must never happen again.”
Ale Becerra states, “There has never been a question in my mind that this case was an act of selective enforcement, the unit of the Flagstaff Police Department which chose to come after people is itself called that. It is comical that the argument did not stand in court, but it is comical as well for anyone to think the city court would go against their own. They are one in the same and designed to strip money and freedom from working class people of Flagstaff. The charges came at a time when the City of Flagstaff was under pressure because of its collaboration with ICE and ICE having an agreement with the jail. I gave a speech at that protest, which is likely why I was targeted. In that speech I was clear about my stance of solidarity as an immigrant mother with the Indigenous people of the land to which my family came when they were displaced by the violent effects of capitalism. The state, and all of its actors, are the threat to our communities. At every level in which we have no autonomy and white supremacists institutions have power over our bodies, they will weaponize their instruments when they want to, however they want to. Be it the Flagstaff Police Department criminalizing people and making them afraid to even walk in their neighborhood, ICE targeting those who organize against their violent raids, the FBI sitting in city buildings watching Mutual Aid efforts play out, prosecutors, judges, city council members, jails etc. They have an entire system designed to cause harm to those that don’t abide by their agenda. We are seeing movements that call for an end to their violence play out all over the country. Some may say, “This isn’t real in Flagstaff.” Fuck that. The issues that affect our families and relatives are real, these are people’s lives. This moment calls for nothing less than active solidarity among those of us who work, live, and love and have always resided in this community.”
Flagstaff attorney Lee Phillips, who represented the three defendants stated, “I am proud to have been able to help defend the First Amendment rights of the peaceful protesters who participated in the Indigenous Peoples‘ Day march and I am grateful that these last three cases have finally been dismissed”
On October 8, 2018 more than 40 people rallied and marched through Downtown Flagstaff to denounce the City of Flagstaff’s “hypocritical” declaration of Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The rally was held as a call for justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, Trans, and Two-Spirit Relatives, highlight the criminalization of migrants that leads to mass deportations and detentions, 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. 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.
The targeted political attack on demonstrators was a result of extensive online surveillance and use of an undercover operative by the Flagstaff Police Department’s (FPD) “Selective Enforcement Unit” and the “Gang and Immigration Intelligence Team Enforcement Mission” (GIITEM) before and after the event.
Nearly a dozen FPD officers used body cameras to monitor and document the demonstration and then launched a weeks-long investigation that used social media including Facebook tags and posts as well as the event’s guest list, and an unidentified informant all to file misdemeanor criminal charges of “Obstructing a Public Thoroughfare.” A total of eleven people were initially charged on November 11, 2018. Seven of those charged agreed to a plea deal with the option of 40 hours of community service or paying a $150 fine.
The investigation was led by Lance Roberts and Dustin Khuns of the FPD’s “Selective Enforcement Unit” and “Criminal Intelligence Analyst” Susan Chacon from the Arizona Department of Public Safety GIITEM task force.
Flagstaff attorney Lee Phillips, who represented the three defendants, filed a Selective Enforcement/Vindictive Prosecution and Defenses to a Criminal Prosecution motion on behalf of the IPD3. The motion asserted, “The three remaining accused individuals allege they, and the other who were later charged, were singled out by the police and City Officials for prosecution based on their known participation in many similar public events aimed at drawing attention to a variety of social justice issues.”
Another motion was also filed to dispute how the City Attorney office’s decision to prosecute did not disclose a series of emails between the FPD, Flagstaff City Council and Flagstaff City Manager’s office all of which were obtained by a reporter from The Progressive who wrote an article about the ongoing surveillance of protestors. A law enforcement agent stated in one of the emails, “No get out of jail free cards for them. They caused some problems and need to deal with the consequences!”
The motions were denied by Flagstaff City judge Amy Criddle.
The cases were set to go to trial on July 30th, 2020. More than one and a half years after the charges were originally filed.
On July 9th, 2020 a motion to dismiss the cases was filed by the Flagstaff City Attorney’s Office and the order was signed on July 20, 2020.
The defense was prepared to call on 23 witnesses for trial, which included current and former Flagstaff City Council members as well as others who are mentioned in reports the State was relying on for prosecution.
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-defenders-take-streets-rejecting-empty-declaration-of-indigenous-peoples-day-in-flagstaff/