Monday, June 8, 2009

First Friday Transformed! Observers of art become participants in their own lives! Police confronted by mob after raiding the UM gallery

by Jon Riley

First Friday on "Roosevelt Row" took a decidedly confrontational turn last week after undercover Phoenix police officers ran a sting on the UM gallery down on 5th st. PCWC was tabling that night when we noticed everyone in the gallery being pushed out by a handful of uniformed and a couple of undercover cops. The crowd grew in the yard as word spread that they were busted for serving alcohol, particularly angering people as alcohol is prevalent at most of the spaces on First Friday, and to make matters worse the host of the gallery, a DJ, and two artists were held in hand cuffs inside.

Everybody forced out was pretty angry that the police were breaking up the show, so people took photos of both the uniformed and the undercover officers, yelled at the police, and chanted "Let them go!". It was nice to see a united group challenging the actions of the cops, even after the police brought the DJ out in an appeal to the crowd to leave the crowd, people saw through such a cynical move by not leaving, and instead shouting out support and blaming the cops for sending him out. In addition to that a cop came down and tried to talk to someone they perceived as a leader only to have the man cover his ears when the cop spoke, and a local art community big name tried to do one for the cops only to be told off. Everyone wanted their friends freed, right then and there, no compromise, no debate. The handful of cops called in reinforcements, and soon after 30+ cops arrived and cleared the front yard, many people stood their ground and refused to leave, causing a scuffle between a few people and a cop.

The folks inside were eventually released, only after being cited for serving without a permit, and everyone flooded into the gallery to take a last look at the art before the venue shuttered for the night. As we were walking off, word spread that a police car had been tagged, excitedly we turned around to check out a little anti-cop action! We were happy to see a few spray painted tags on the police SUV (one of the many police cars jamming 5th st up), even though one man was arrested.

All in all, a lovely cool late spring night in central Phoenix; an inspiring show of solidarity between young and old, art lovers, radicals, passer-bys, and friends of the detained; and mostly a spontaneous social rupture that Phoenix has needed for sometime. It was rewarding to see the smiles on faces when the police left the gallery with no one in cuffs, to hear people talking about how much fun confronting the police had been, and the crowd of people surrounding the police SUV laughing and taking pictures of the tags while the police stood by wearing grimaces. It was nice to see the police on the defensive! And, best if all, our resistance worked: all charges were dropped a couple weeks later!

We need to remember victories like this and how they happen if we want to defend our own autonomous spaces. When we all stand up in solidarity behind our collective desire to live our individual desires free from the control of Capital and the State, we liberate each other and ourselves. What will we do next time?

Nearly 20 cops stand guard over the gallery in the front yard.

The cops have left, people excitedly return to the UM gallery!

Art is everywhere: A beautiful site in downtown Phoenix.

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