The Arizona manifestation of the Ferguson movement began on December 2nd, 2014 when a police officer in Phoenix fired upon and killed an unarmed, suspected drug dealer, Rumain Brisbon. Immediate parallels were drawn between Brisbon and Mike Brown, giving birth to Arizona’s own “Ferguson.” From this birth, two sub-movements formed; Justice for Rumain Brisbon and Black Lives Matter Arizona.
Black Lives Matter Arizona comprised clergy, National Action Network, and African American activists from the Phoenix area, including the outspoken Reverend Jarrett Maupin. Justice for Rumain comprised millennials, immigration activists, and a smattering of other special interests. Orbiting around these two groups are Carpe Locus, Nation of Islam, and Wave of Action-Phoenix, all of whom lend their support. The Justice for Rumain group attracted more militant voices while Maupin’s group seemed to attract more tempered activists. Plenty of people rose to leadership status in the various movements but Black Lives Matter Arizona was clearly in control, and Rev. Maupin was the de facto leader.
That was until January 7th, 2015 when Reverend Maupin participated in three, staged, police scenarios armed with a body camera and a simunitions gun. In one of the scenarios Maupin is faced with a large, unarmed suspect charging toward him. Maupin fired his sim-gun “killing” the suspect. Later, when reflecting on the entire experience Maupin stated very clearly that people “need to comply…for their own safety.” Within hours of the newscast, the video of Maupin went viral on social media. By the next day, it was filling Facebook streams and Twitter feeds of friends and foe. It was quickly evident the Maupin video was going to be the watershed moment for Arizona activists.
On Friday the 9th, Yonasda Hill, the Justice for Rumain co-chair, issued a short statement on Facebook wherein she declared, “Stop police terrorism. We will never comply until the police comply. We are a movement of many leaders not just one leader.” A few hours later the entire Justice for Rumain committee issued a statement declaring the news story a “media stunt.” They went on to state, “Jarret Maupin is not our leader” and demand the officer who killed Brisbon be indicted. Tia Oso, an outspoken immigration activist and committee member declared the news story propaganda and reiterated Maupin did not speak for the group. Interestingly enough, she stated they were not anti-police, a sentiment she apparently abandoned when she penned her own statement wherein she unequivocally rejected the premise of seeing things from the police perspective. She accused Maupin of furthering police injustice, racism, and civil rights violations. Her final slap to Maupin came in the last paragraph when she stated, “There is no room for those who are focused on personal gain and glory at the expense of the community.”
Another activist linked with Justice for Rumain went even further referring to Maupin as an “Uncle Tom” and several more epithets and slurs. She engaged in direct debate with Black Lives Matters Arizona organizer Katt McKinney who tried in vain to explain why communication with the police was essential for change. Kim and her followers overpowered Katt’s arguments and affirmed their opposition any cooperation with, or understanding of, the police. Kim, Tia Oso, and many others revealed themselves to be anti-police extremists hell bent on breaking the system rather than working to correct its’ ills.
The division could not have come at a worse time for the movement. Super Bowl XLIX is just around the corner. The groups need to be unified in order to carry out any effective direct action. If the Justice for Rumain group does not unify with Black Lives Matter-Arizona, they will be forced to the outer extremes of the group which means their tactics will go from bringing attention to their cause, to “smashing the system.” A proposition that would lead to quick infiltration by the police, and an even quicker demise. Other groups have experienced a similar demise; Occupy: Phoenix and Shut Down all Ports are just a few. In many ways the dynamic at play in Arizona is one that will soon, or already is, affecting the Ferguson movement across the country. Specifically, do they strive for reasonable catharsis with law enforcement, or do they fight?
One shows promise, the other desperation.