PHOENIX (AP) - Protesters engaged in minor scuffles and shouting matches with President Donald Trump supporters on Tuesday as hundreds of people lined up to get inside a rally that marks his first political event since the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Phoenix leaders are on high alert in the aftermath of the deadly protests in Virginia and the president's comments last week about both sides having blame for violence at the white supremacist rally. Mayor Greg Stanton called on the president to not hold the rally here so soon after the trouble in Charlottesville.
Trump fans wearing red "Make America Great Again" hats waited in line hours before the event. At one point, a Trump supporter and protester shoved each other. In another exchange, the two groups shouted at each other before moving on. Police officers later formed a line in the middle of a street separating the protesters and Trump supporters.
State Democratic leaders urged people who want to show their opposition to the president's policies to gather at a city-designated free speech zone near the site of the Phoenix Convention Center rally. State Democratic Party Chair Alexis Tameron joined other party leaders in urging peaceful protests.
The message to protesters echoed those coming from law enforcement and Stanton. Stanton said he expects protesters to be "civil, respectful and peaceful." Police Chief Jeri Williams says First Amendment rights will be supported but criminal conduct will be swiftly addressed.
Tucson Vice Mayor Regina Romero told reporters at a Tuesday morning news conference organized by the Mi Famila Vota organization that the groups "refuse to idly stand by while Trump destroys everything America stands for."
"We need to raise our voices against Trump's racism, assaults on civil rights, horrific border wall and attacks on public lands, our environment and working families," Romero said.
Meanwhile, several hundred Trump supporters lined up at the Convention Center, with some arriving before dawn for the 7 p.m. rally.
"It's been on a bucket list of mine, since he became the president," said Kingman resident Diane Treon, who arrived at 4 p.m. "I wished I had attended one of his campaign rallies before he became president and I wanted to go to the inauguration. And truthfully it was the protests that kept me away."
Treon said she wishes protesters "would be a little more peaceful instead of violently rioting, which is happening in so many places" but isn't overly worried.
"I don't think the Phoenix Police are going to stand down and throw us out in the wind," she said. "I really think they're going to keep us safe."