On Saturday, Phoenix police officers fatally shot a 28-year-old man named James Garcia in a parked car. The killing, which was captured on video, has led to renewed protests against police violence.
The video shows Garcia sitting in his parked car and several cops surrounding him with guns pointed at him. Onlookers can be heard begging cops to lower their weapons, while one officer shouts, “Stop fucking moving, I will fucking shoot you!” Then a series of ten or so gunshots can be heard in quick succession, even as the cops stand before bystanders who are clearly recording the incident. Garcia was later taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead. None of the responding officers were injured, nor have they been identified.
Witnesses say they saw what the video makes evident: Cops escalated the situation out of nowhere and proceeded to use lethal force. The police department said in a statement that they were on the scene responding to a 911 caller who said a man who had recently tried to kill him had returned with a knife. They said that during that effort, they noticed Garcia sitting in a car and that when they approached him, he armed himself with a handgun. Garcia’s sister said in a Facebook post, “Phoenix P.D shot my brother who was unarmed sleeping in the car.” The police have not commented on whether Garcia had anything to do with the person they’d been called in on that tip to investigate. A police spokesperson the Guardian questioned about any possible connection replied, “We do not know yet.” Garcia was reportedly sitting in the driveway of a friend’s house when police shot him.
Lisa Wagner, the mother of 26-year-old Shawn Hensen, who considered Garcia to be his best friend, told the Arizona Republic that Garcia was waiting in the driveway while Hansen was getting ready for them to go out. She said she had no idea the police were outside her home until she heard the gunshots. “I keep thinking it’s a bad dream and we’re going to wake up and we’re all going to laugh about this,” she said. “Everyone kind of feels like [the police] murdered Jay.”
Jamaar Williams, a member of Black Lives Matter’s Phoenix chapter, told the Guardian that there was “no justification for what happened,” as Garcia “was boxed in, in a car, by himself; he literally had nowhere to go and you’re holding him at gunpoint, for whose safety? Who is in danger?” Carlos Garcia, a member of the Phoenix City Council, said in a Facebook post, “It does not shock us that despite all the scrutiny from community, Phoenix PD continues to respond violently to calls,” adding, “We cannot allow for dishonest narratives to be built by violent departments.”
The case bears some resemblance to that of Dion Johnson, a Black man killed by an Arizona Department of Public Safety trooper on May 25 after he came upon Johnson asleep in his car. The FBI launched an investigation into Johnson’s case in June. The cop who killed Johnson claimed he fired only after a struggle ensued and he feared being pushed into traffic, but there’s no video of the moments leading up to the shooting. There is, however, footage of the moments after, which shows paramedics on-scene were not permitted to approach Johnson for several minutes as he lay on the ground wounded. The Arizona Republic reported that in 2018, Phoenix police officers fired at more people than any other municipal police department in the country.
On Sunday night, protests convened demanding justice for Garcia and all those profiled and harmed by Arizona law enforcement. The protesters also called for the city to release the officers’ body-cam footage of the incident. Dozens of protesters gathered at the Maryvale Estrella Mountain police station, where they were met with some 30 cops in riot gear, according to social-media reports. On Monday, the police department released part of a body-cam video, but the department said releasing the whole video could interfere with its investigation.