A demonstration by the National Socialist Movement, a group that supports neo-Nazism, turned ugly Saturday afternoon as protesters against the march clashed with police.
About an hour into the march, a line of approximately 50 police officers equipped with helmets and riot shields began pushing through the more than 150 protesters who blocked the neo-Nazis’ movements.
The protesters, which included an anarchist group and various people who oppose neo-Nazism, stood their ground.
A short time later, police officers wearing gas masks began shooting pepper spray into the crowd. Police also fired rubber bullets and tear gas to further disperse the group.
Both protesters and journalists covering the event were hit.
At least two ASU student journalists had to be treated by on-scene medics.
The NSM had acquired a permit to march to the Sandra Day O'Connor Federal Courthouse and speak there between 1 and 4 p.m. Saturday afternoon. The neo-Nazis were protesting the blockage of key provisions in Arizona’s immigration law, Senate Bill 1070.
Once the protesters impeded the progress of the march and restricted the First Amendment rights of the marchers, police used force to reestablish that right, Phoenix police spokesman Sgt. Tommy Thompson said.
“Whether we agree with one group or the other, we’re here to protect freedom of speech,” Thompson said.
Medical professionals from the Phoenix Urban Health Collective were on scene to treat injuries sustained during the confrontation. They anticipated the use of pepper spray on the crowd, so they had bottles of a dilute magnesium hydroxide solution on hand to clean people’s eyes of the spray.
There were five medics on scene, and each one treated at least 10 patients after the initial round of pepper spray and tear gas, medical officials said.
Some protesters threw stones, bottles and cans at the police officers and neo-Nazis. They also put nails in the road and built a barricade of newspaper dispensers to slow the march.
At least one police officer and several NSM demonstrators were injured by rocks, Thompson said.
The NSM held a march last year to protest illegal immigration, but there were no reports of violence.
After the confrontation, the neo-Nazi group eventually made it to the federal courthouse to hold their rally. Police were stationed nearby in case another incident occurred. Protesters continued yelling throughout the speeches, but instances of violence were not reported.
The Associated Press reported that two people were arrested for throwing rocks at police.
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