PHILADELPHIA – The normally placid breakfast meetings of Arizona’s delegates to the Democratic National Convention turned into a lively discussion of the Black Lives Matter movement Thursday, one day after Tempe police shot a black suspect during a robbery.
Ahwatukee delegate M. Lisa Scinto said she was not trying hijack the meeting, but that delegates who attended a Black Caucus meeting a day earlier had been urged by former Attorney General Eric Holder to talk about officer-involved shootings of black people.
“At the Black Caucus meeting yesterday, Eric Holder talked about it very, very much,” she said. “He told us we need to talk about this.”
As delegates waited for Thursday’s scheduled speaker, Scinto decided to bring up the Wednesday morning shooting by a Tempe police officer of a black man police said was robbing a Walgreens pharmacy. A Tempe Police Department news release said the man told the pharmacist that he had a firearm in his bag. Police have not released the identity of the suspect, who was killed in the incident.
“My position was not to take this (meeting) hostage,” Scinto said. “Somebody didn’t show up. I thought, ‘OK, we’re all from Arizona. Did you all know this happened?'”
After she raised the issue, other delegates chimed in with opinions on the Black Lives Matter movement and on officer-involved shootings.
Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, who was moderating the meeting, said he is working with Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Georgia, on legislation to change policies that encourage police to use military-grade equipment. But Gallego told delegates he was not the person who could make the most change.
“If you want to see change you need to push this at the local level,” Gallego said.
When the featured speaker, Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, finally arrived, Gallego told delegates that they could address questions and concerns on the issue to him.
Ellison said he was against the “militarization of the police” and that he respected the “time-honored tradition” of protesting, pointing to examples like the civil rights, women’s suffrage and gay-rights movements.
Charlene Tarver, another Arizona delegate, said she would like to see the issue get more attention. Tarver said before coming to Philadelphia that she was coming to the convention to make black voices and issues heard.
“If you look at the national Democratic party and the agenda, we clearly have seen the presence of Black Lives Matter,” Tarver said. “There is a silence locally outside of the African-American community.”
While Scinto said she wants to see more attention on the issue, she said that she understands some of the hesitation and lack of action, saying that the movement has yet to find “a Martin Luther King junior.”
“I think that there is concern but I think that most people, myself included, don’t know what to do next,” she said. “We need a good strong leader.”
But Tarver said she understood the message delegates were giving: More action is wanted from Arizona’s congressmen to deal with the issues surrounding Black Lives Matter.
“On the congressional level there should be a more concerted effort to hold hearings on these issues,” Tarver said. “I think the recommendation was that Congressman Gallego encourage that hearing.”