Protests outside the Arizona Capitol against the US Supreme Court decision Roe v. To oust Wade, which ended in a volley of tear gas, were variously described on Saturday as either peaceful or driven by destructive anarchists.
Republican Senate President Karen Fann issued a press release describing it as a thwarted riot, while protesters called it a violent overreaction by police who they say acted without warning or justification.
Statements from the Arizona Department of Public Safety said state troopers fired the gas as some of a group of 7,000 to 8,000 people gathered in the Capitol on Friday night attempted to break into the state Senate. Lawmakers worked to end their annual session.
The vast majority of people were peaceful and state police said there were no arrests or injuries. While both anti-abortion and abortion-rights advocates were there, the majority of the crowd opposed the Supreme Court’s decision.
Police fired tear gas around 8:30 p.m. as dozens of people pressed against the glass wall in front of the Senate building, chanting and waving signs supporting abortion rights. While most were peaceful, a handful of people banged on windows and one person attempted to force down a sliding glass door.
At that point, SWAT team members from the Public Safety Division stationed on the second floor of the old Capitol building fired the tear gas.
Video captured by Republican Senator Michelle Ugenti-Rita from the Senate lobby showed the scene. Another she made shortly after showed state police in riot gear forming a line inside the building, facing protesters on the other side of the glass.
She said in an interview with The Associated Press on Saturday morning that the protesters were clearly trying to enter the locked building.
“They hit the windows so aggressively that they could break at any moment,” said Ugenti-Rita. “It wasn’t a knock on a window. I mean, they tried to break the windows.”
Their videos showed hundreds of protesters moving around the plaza between the House of Representatives and Senate buildings, while about a hundred stood closer to the glass wall in front of the Senate building.
“There was no conclusion other than that they were interested in being violent,” she added. “I don’t have a takeaway other than that. I’ve seen many protests of many different sizes and shapes over my years. I’ve never seen that before.”
However, Democratic state representative Athena Salman of Tempe said the gassed were peaceful.
“A group of House and Senate Democrats have voted to give these cops a huge raise,” a Twitter post said, showing police firing tear gas. “Some even called it historical. Remember, the cops gas peaceful protesters every time.”
State police said in a statement that “what began as a peaceful protest evolved into anarchic and criminal actions by masses of factions.” And they said they warned people on multiple occasions to leave.
Police said gas was used “after protesters tried to break the glass” and was later used again in a square across the street. Police said some monuments in the square had been defaced.
No broken glass was seen on the Senate building after the crowd dispersed.
Republican lawmakers passed a 15-week abortion ban in March over opposition from minority Democrats. It mirrors a Mississippi law that the Supreme Court upheld on Friday while also striking down Roe. A law from before Arizona became a state in 1912 that banned all abortions remains on the books, and providers across the state stopped performing abortions early Friday for fear of prosecution.
The incident with the protesters forced Senate lawmakers to flee to the basement for about 20 minutes, Democratic Senator Martin Quezada said. Pungent tear gas blasted through the building afterward, and the trial was moved to a hearing room instead of the Senate chambers.
Fann was leading a vote on a controversial school voucher expansion bill when she abruptly dropped the case. Speeches supporting or backing the bill to expand the state’s school voucher program to all 1.1 million public school students were cut short, and the bill passed.
“We’re going on break now, okay?” Fann announced. “We have a security problem outside.”
The building was never breached, said Kim Quintero, a spokesman for the Senate GOP leadership.
After the tear gas caused protesters to flee, the Senate reconvened to vote on its final bill before it was adjourned for the year just after midnight. A faint smell of tear gas hung in the air.