Hundreds gathered outside Phoenix City Hall Saturday afternoon to decry the deaths of Dion Johnson and Breonna Taylor, calling “to abolish the system that killed them.”

“Our demands are specific,” said Michael Alexander, an organizer with Black Phoenix Organizing Collective, one of the groups organizing Saturday’s march. 

In addition to abolishing the police entirely, organizers called for a variety of measures including the firing of police who have killed people, independent investigations of police misconduct, releasing unredacted body camera footage of shootings and dropping charges against those arrested in connection with past demonstrations against police brutality.

At the start of the protest, mostly Black women led speeches and encouraged gatherers to follow the leadership and take direction from Black women throughout the protest.

Lashae Brown, an organizer with Black Phoenix Organizing Collective said Black women are constantly being told what to do.

“Everywhere we go and try to exist, this hatred follows. Still, Black women flourish and thrive despite what we’re given,” said Brown.

Brown said the chant, “say her name,” which many people have associated with Breonna Taylor, is reserved for Black women.

“We are underestimated, undervalued and undermined at every point. But more than that we are hated. The system that killed Breonna Taylor did not fail. The system that let her killers go free, isn’t broken. It’s doing exactly what it’s designed to do — oppress Black people, especially Black women,” Brown said.

Other organizers with Black Lives Matter Phoenix Metro also asked that protesters engage and get involved with the organizations.

“The only true way to stop police violence is to end policing. Period,” one speaker said. 

They also called for the immediate firing of Department of Public Safety Trooper George Cervantes, who shot and killed 28-year-old Phoenix man Dion Johnson on May 25. 

Alexander said the coalition of organizations included Black Lives Matter Phoenix Metro, Mass Liberation, Puente Human Rights Movement and several others gathered with community members including the family of Johnson to discuss changes they want to see made to Phoenix police.

Johnson, an unarmed Black man, was killed by a Department of Public Safety trooper in May. The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office determined last month that the trooper would not face any criminal charges in connection with Johnson’s death.

“A lot of community members don’t feel safe. And we will continue to organize and build coalition … so that we can demand to dismantle these white supremacist systems and create something that actually helps us all to thrive together,” Alexander said. 

Demonstrators marched through the streets of downtown Phoenix, clad in masks and carrying signs, as police stood by. They told protesters to stay on the sidewalk.

They reached Phoenix police headquarters shortly after 5 p.m.

One group of four protesters chained themselves to a black wooden box representing a coffin. It was decorated with flowers and pictures of Hector Lopez, James Garcia, Ryan Whitaker and other men shot and killed by police in recent months. They pledged not to leave until they were arrested.

They held a sign that read, “Stop the murderers. Defund the police.”

Four protesters chain themselves to a casket awaiting arrests outside Phoenix Police Headquarters during a March For Breonna Taylor & Dion Johnson in Phoenix, Ariz. on Oct. 3, 2020. (Photo: Patrick Breen/The Republic)

Zarra Teacola, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Metro Phoenix, asked if protesters knew why they had the coffin.

“Because that’s what we’re trying to stop – death. This is what’s at stake – death. And it’s important we don’t forget that.”

Black Lives Matter Phoenix Metro posted a statement on Facebook shortly before 10 p.m. that said Teacola, among others, were arrested following the protest.

“PHX PD had our members cornered and didn’t hesitate to use force tonight. They didn’t try to hide their brutality,” the statement said.

Phoenix police did not immediately respond to inquiries from The Arizona Republic about the number of people arrested and on what grounds.

Reach the reporter at [email protected] or on Twitter @Mkayackley.

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