The Arizona Army National Guard’s presence in Chandler and other cities ended Tuesday after nearly a week of armored trucks patrolling around areas that officials feared would fall victim to vandals and rioters.
After Scottsdale Fashion Square was vandalized and ransacked by protestors May 30, the Guard began dispatching soldiers out to other communities to prevent similar incidents elsewhere.
Chandler was one of 11 municipalities in Arizona to request the assistance of the National Guard’s 1,000 soldiers after Gov. Doug Ducey issued a weeklong curfew on May 31 in reaction to the Scottsdale riot.
Over the next couple days, Chandler residents started posting pictures online of armored trucks stationed outside movie theaters and Chandler Fashion Center.
“At the Chandler Mall just getting some food for my family,” one spectator wrote online. “Out of nowhere three police vans, 20 police cars, an armored truck, and four fully-armed National Guard HUMV’s just roll up... What a time to be alive.”
The Guard’s presence reportedly wasn’t confined to the ground, as military aircraft was used to monitor civil protests in Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Chandler.
According to flight data obtained by Arizona Mirror, the guard used its aircraft to fly over protestors who had assembled in downtown Chandler on June 3. The National Guard decided on June 5 to stop using planes to assist local law enforcement.
Maj. Aaron Thacker, a spokesman for the National Guard, said the military aircrafts were not being used to collect information on protestors.
Law enforcement was utilizing the Guard’s planes as a “viewing platform,” Thacker added, to see if anything dangerous was happening on the ground.
Chandler is one of several East Valley communities that have seen protests over the recent deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Dion Johnson in Phoenix – two African-American men who died at the hands of law enforcement.
Chandler’s protests have remained relatively peaceful with no reports of demonstrators getting arrested or stores being looted. Some Chandler police officers have even participated in some of the protests by marching and kneeling alongside demonstrators.
Chandler Police said the National Guard officially stopped providing assistance to the agency on June 9.
There was no specific incident that prompted the city to request the Guard’s assistance in Chandler, the agency said.
But Chandler had reportedly been targeted by online agitators as a possible site for more looting and vandalism.
Shortly after the Scottsdale riots, social media threats had begun circulating online that called for the vandalism and destruction of the Valley’s other shopping centers – including the Chandler mall.
Windows and doors were quickly boarded up around the Chandler Fashion Center in the following days and the Guard dispatched a number of armored vehicles to patrol the mall’s parking lots.
Thacker said the Guard’s soldiers weren’t instructed to conduct law enforcement activities and they had no authority to arrest citizens.
“We were not on the ‘front lines’ dealing with the community but, rather, were more commonly at locations that required a presence,” Thacker said, “which freed up law enforcement to provide support to the protests.”
The Guard’s activities varied depending on the needs of each community, Thacker added, and were based on what was requested from the individual city.
Other cities that requested the National Guard’s assistance include Flagstaff, Glendale, Goodyear, Kingman, Phoenix, Prescott, Scottsdale, Tempe, Show Low and Queen Creek.
Several leaders of these cities have said they sought the Guard’s assistance to ensure the public could safely hold civil protests.
Mayor Kevin Hartke has recently expressed support for the community’s ability to stage peaceful protests and thanked law enforcement for being able to safely manage the demonstrations.
“I stand with the peaceful protesters and our diverse residents, leaders, educators, business community and those who have poured their hearts and souls into this City,” the mayor said on June 5.