A county security officer calls for backup to remove a man who is sleeping in the alcove of the Maricopa County Human Services building.

In Phoenix, Arizona, police brutality protests over the deaths of George Floyd and many other black Americans broke out almost as soon as the COVID-19 stay at home order was lifted.

Meanwhile, the unsheltered population of over 5,000 people face another summer in one of America’s hottest cities. Many are experiencing homelessness for the first time after losing their jobs due to the pandemic. 

Things here are anything but “normal”.

Brandon, 33, says that before people were moved into the encampment, sleeping on the street was more dangerous. People were harassed by the police and faced assault and looting from others.

Ernesto, 60, walks past the Orpheum Theater in downtown Phoenix. When asked how he deals with the summer heat in Phoenix he told me “Just like everyone else – one day at a time.”

Ernesto worked with Church on the Street for one year before he says he felt strong enough to handle living on the street. His hands are swollen and scarred from his days as a street fighter under the name Machette.

Urban camping for those who cannot find shelter is legal in the City of Phoenix. However, the city recently forced many people from the sidewalks into a large encampment just southeast of the state capitol. A few people remain camped on the sidewalks.

Donovan, 50, walks in downtown Phoenix just before a protest. He says he has not seen any difference in his life with the “new normal”

A man sleeps through a vigil hosted by Black Lives Matter Phoenix Metro for Dion Johnson who was killed by an Arizona Department of Public Safety officer on Memorial Day, the same day that George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis.

As we put on one mask, these images show that we are taking off another. The veil of institutionalized racism is being pulled back and as that happens we see the cracks in our society. We see the divisions that those cracks have created, and we see people falling through them.

Masks are the symbol of our new COVID-19 reality.

June 3rd, protesters rally outside of the Phoenix City Council meeting. Speakers call in to the meeting to give comments in support of defunding the Phoenix Police Department, and funding a civilian review board.

May 29th, protesters march in downtown Phoenix.

Cousins Latavion, 15 (left) and Deaundrell, 16, attend a protest at the state capitol on May 30th, the third consecutive day of protests in Phoenix.

May 30th, police fire rubber bullets and other “less lethal” rounds at protesters in front of the Phoenix Police Headquarters.

A protester walks through tear gas. Protesters are more organized and aggressive, using leaf blowers and fireworks as they engage with the police. Police are more aggressive as well, shooting me 3 times with rubber bullets and sending me to the hospital, along with others.

May 29th. Protesters use milk and water to flush tear gas from their eyes and face.

A protester stands in front of the Phoenix PD Headquarters. The crowd chants “Hands up, don’t shoot!”

A protester sits meditating and radiating calm energy in front of the headquarters as the protest rages around him on May 29th, the second night of protests.

It’s my hope that we see a new way forward. That we fill these cracks with compassionate action and our “new normal” becomes a society that is safe and secure for everyone.

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