Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey vows to protect peaceful protests, crack down on riots

During a news conference held to address the state's ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Doug Ducey also took some time to address the recent protests and unrest in Arizona that took place amid national uproar over the death of George Floyd.

Ducey said he would protect the rights of peaceful protesters but not give a free pass to “rioters and looters” as a second week of demonstrations against police brutality got underway Thursday.

Hundreds of people gathered in front of Phoenix City Hall to march several blocks amid sweltering heat. According to a flyer circulating on social media, the protest will end shortly before the start of a statewide curfew at 8 p.m. For the last three days, the nightly protests in the downtown area have been mostly calm with no arrests, a contrast to weekend events.

“In Arizona, we’re listening and we’re looking at this as an American moment where change can happen for the better in our nation,” Ducey told reporters. “We will project peace and order to protect George Floyd’s memory.”

Unlike previous statements, the governor focused his remarks more on protesters and their freedom of expression. It’s also the first time he mentioned Floyd by name. 

Floyd died on May 25, after now-fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin held him to the ground by putting his knee on Floyd's neck for several minutes. The incident was captured on video and has sparked unrest and violence across the nation.

On Wednesday, charges against Chauvin were upgraded to second-degree murder, and charges were also filed against the other three officers involved in the incident. The three officers involved are identified as Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng.

A memorial service for Floyd took place in Minneapolis on Thursday.

In Arizona, protesters have also focused on the DPS trooper-involved death of Dion Johnson.

During the start of the news conference, Gov. Ducey acknowledged that thousands have protested, day after day, in the aftermath of Floyd's death.

“The suffering and death of George Floyd is tragic and important. It’s an American tragedy. It should be condemned by leaders at every level,” the Republican said.

“In Arizona, we will listen to those that want to have a civil discourse to ensure that it never happens again in the United States of America and that we make the proper reforms and improvement” at the state, national and federal levels, he said.

Ducey said that “thousands upon thousands” of Arizona’s 7.3 million residents have come out day after day to exercise their First Amendment rights to be heard and ask for justice.

"In Arizona, we're listening, and we're looking at this as an American moment where change can happen," said Gov. Ducey.

In response to questions surrounding Dion Johnson's death, DPS Director Col. Heston Silbery said he has not spoken to Johnson's family.

"I’m sorry for their loss," said Col. Silbert. "I think any untimely death is tragic, and all of us at our agency feel that same thing."

Dion Johnson was shot and killed by a DPS trooper the same day that George Floyd died. Family members - and Arizona protesters - have called for justice in Johnson's death.

Gov. Ducey also said Arizona's statewide curfew, which was instituted following unrest and incidents of vandalism and looting in Phoenix and Scottsdale, is working.

"That’s not going to happen again," said Gov. Ducey. "That’s the intention. That’s why the statewide curfew was issued. That’s why the National Guard was brought in, so that we could avoid the looting, rioting that you saw in Scottsdale."

Those people will not be allowed to overtake the message of those who want reform and justice, the governor said.

“Arizona will not confuse peaceful protesters and demonstrators with looters and rioters,” Ducey stated.

The curfew, which is currently scheduled between the hours of 8:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m., is set to last until June 8, and it could be extended or shortened.

When asked about a request from Arizona's Democratic state lawmakers to call a special session to address police reform, Gov. Ducey said he will work with legislators from both parties on the issue.

On Thursday, it was reported that Arizona's Republican attorney general, Mark Brnovich, called for a series of police reforms he said are needed in the wake of Floyd's death.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.