TPD Chief: Hate groups not welcome in Tucson - Tucson News Now

TPD Chief: Hate groups not welcome in Tucson

(Source: Tucson News Now) (Source: Tucson News Now)
(Source: Tucson News Now) (Source: Tucson News Now)
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Tucson Police Department Chief Chris Magnus is often publicly outspoken on political and social issues. The violent incident in Charlottesville, VA, that left one person dead and 19 others injured, forced his hand once again.

"Police leaders have to protect 1st Amendment rights of all, but must not be 'neutral' or silent in condemning hate groups &domestic terror," Magnus said in a Tweet on Wednesday, Aug. 16, along with a picture showing symbols consistent with white supremacy groups.

"I chose a picture of what I think most of us would agree is some pretty hateful imagery: An individual with Nazi symbolism and others advocating for the KKK. I don't think there'd be any disagreement, and I have no problem coming out and saying that those are abhorrent images and organizations," he said.

The police chief was given a chance to elaborate on Thursday, Aug. 17, as he sat down for a one-on-one interview with Tucson News Now. It resulted in a discussion about where he and his Tucson Police Department officers feel Freedom of Speech and the First Amendment crosses a line into the territory of unlawful behavior.

"It is a tightrope," Magnus said.

"We are guardians of the constitution. We protect people's rights. So that often puts us in a difficult position."

It's a difficult position. Magnus said he can relate with officers placed in an unenviable position in Charlottesville - a verbal clash that turned physical and deadly.

Heather Heyer, a legal assistant from Charlottesville, was killed and 19 others were injured Saturday, Aug. 12, when a car plowed into counter-protesters who had taken to the streets to decry what was believed to be the country's biggest gathering of white nationalists in at least a decade, the Associated Press reported.

The hundreds of white nationalists - including neo-Nazis, skinheads and Ku Klux Klan members - had descended on Charlottesville after the city decided to remove a monument to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, the report said.

The incident had Magnus learning lessons from the police response, saying it's "never a perfect or easy process to keep groups separated when you know there is going to be a convening like this that has groups that really want to go at it, potentially, with each other."

In his mind, the road to deescalating the situation starts with communication and preventative tactics.

"If you know there's going to be a focal point where groups are going to want to convene - in this case a statue, but it could be a number of things - you make sure you have an extremely strong police presence, well in advance, at that location," he said, talking about the tactics.

"You learn who the people are, who are organizing on both sides of whatever the issue is. You try to build relationships with them and lay out ground rules," he said, talking about the communication aspect. "Then, when you see people behaving badly early on you take as low of a tolerance as possible for that. You've got to set a tone that you're not going to put up with people engaging in assaultive or illegal conduct."

He drew two-sided similarities in then-candidate Donald Trump's March 2016 rally in Tucson, when the intensity outside the Tucson Convention Center matched the fervor inside.

At least two people were arrested for assault at the Tucson rally.

"People had very, very strong - really passionate feelings on both sides. We're put in the position, not unlike police throughout the country, where we have to protect everyone's right. It's people's right to hear the candidate of their choice and to share those views, just as it is people's rights to protest."

But sometimes, Magnus' officers have to judge when the freedom of speech is taken too far.

"A little harder when it comes to language. People do have a right to say hurtful, hateful things. Threatening is where you start to cross lines."

The police chief went on to condemn the hate groups who showed up in Charlottesville, saying those "domestic terrorists" and bigoted groups have no place in his city.

"We're doing our best as a community to send a message that those groups are not welcome in Tucson. This is a tolerant, diverse community. We respect and care for the rights of all people. That we're not bigoted towards a particular religious, ethnic, or racial group," he said. "That message from the community is very powerful."

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