A young father whose family is at the center of controversial videos showing him and his fiancée being threatened at gunpoint by Phoenix police in the presence of their young daughters told thousands of mostly black and Hispanic residents Tuesday night that he is thankful to God that his family emerged from the encounter alive.
"I want to thank God for sparing my family that day," the father, Dravon Ames, 22, said at the Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church where Police Chief Jeri Williams and Mayor Kate Gallego pledged to listen as residents vented their fear and frustration with the Police Department in the wake of the video which has sparked local and national outrage, AZ Central reported.
The videos show officers pointing guns and screaming threats at Ames, his pregnant fiancée, Lesha Harper, and their two young daughters, after the family said their 4-year-old took a doll from a Family Dollar store without their knowledge.
Police have not submitted any charges against the family stemming from the incident, ABC 15 reported.
At a press conference Monday, Sandra Slaton, an attorney for the family who has filed a $10 million claim against the city alleging civil rights violations, said the actions of the police regarding the family were unwarranted.
"I thought something bad was going to happen to me and my children. I thought I was going to be shot, like he told me," Harper, the pregnant mother in the video said.
She explained that her daughter has been left traumatized by the incident and is now afraid of the police.
"I always taught my daughter to depend on the police. She had to find out herself she cannot depend on the police," Harper said.
The young parents noted that "we have to try our best to teach them (children) that not all cops are bad."
Mayor Gallego proposed Tuesday’s community meeting after apologizing for how the young family had been treated by officers.
Many residents came forward during the meeting to share bitter and sometimes deadly encounters the community has had with the police.
Police Chief Williams, who is black, later got up and explained to residents that she was processing everything they said before noting: "Real change doesn't start with our Police Department. Real change starts with our community.”
That comment, however, did not go down well with the audience. She struggled to successfully engage them further as some began walking out of the meeting.
"You don't have to believe me," Williams said.
"The proof is in this meeting. At the end of the day, the proof is what happens after this meeting and this is not the last of these meetings,” she promised.
After the meeting Tuesday, Ames told The Arizona Republic that if action isn’t taken against the officers involved in the incident then the community meeting would be pointless.
"If there's no action then it's going to be pointless — if there's no action done to those officers," he said.