June 2020
Francisco Cantú 

This piece was an op-ed originally published at on June 25th, 2020. It was written in the aftermath of the height of the George Floyd Uprising in Tucson, while a spontaneous and huge campaign to defund TPD was underway, including a petition signed by over 10,000 people circulated. Its reformist bent notwithstanding, we thought it an important piece to place on the site as an archive of how widespread the support was in the aftermath of the uprising.

In recent weeks, Tucson’s police chief has swatted away broad calls to defund TPD by painting a “forward-thinking” portrait of his department. During a June 9th study session with the Mayor and City Council, Magnus boasted that TPD signed onto the much-lauded “8 Can’t Wait” campaign years ago, enacting a series of measures that promise to “reduce police violence by 72%.” The reforms, despite being highly publicized, do little to cut away at the roots of violent policing—even after their adoption, Tucson still ranked as one of the worst cities for police killings, tying for 6th place among major cities ranked in 2018 and coming in 4th when measured per 100,000 residents.

During his presentation, Magnus also held up TPD’s “Mental Health Support Team” as evidence of his department’s longstanding commitment to “putting the right work in the right hands.” Unbeknownst to City Council, however, or the public, even as Magnus cast his progressive sheen, his department was in the midst of concealing an in-custody killing, one that stemmed from, of all things, a mental health call.

The April death of Carlos Adrian Ingram-Lopez, a 27-year old father, occurred after his grandmother called 911 concerned about his erratic behavior. The three TPD officers dispatched to the scene restrained Ingram-Lopez, who was naked and unarmed, with handcuffs and forced him to lie face-down on the ground for 12 minutes, covering his body and face with poly-coated emergency blankets and a “spit-hood”—often deadly in the hands of police. Officers continued to hold him down even as he asked for water and stated that he couldn’t breathe, crying out for his grandmother’s help—nana ayúdame. The killing sparked immediate internal investigations, but remained undisclosed to the public even as protests against police brutality came roaring to the streets of Tucson at the end of May.

At a Wednesday press conference full of equivocations, Chief Magnus desperately clung to a sanitized narrative, insisting that the actions of the recently-resigned officers were not representative of his department. Even as he attempted to write the officers off as “bad actors,” he couldn’t resist casting doubt on their responsibility for the death, shrugging off the fact that Ingram-Lopez literally died in police hands to call attention to an inconclusive coroner’s report, failing to mention its cataloging of blunt force injuries inflicted by his officers.

Magnus concluded his comments by offering his resignation, an offer that should be decisively accepted by the Mayor in the coming days. But Magnus’s resignation, and the resignation of the three officers responsible for Ingram-Lopez’s death, does not go far enough, nor do the handful of changes put forth by Mayor Romero on Wednesday. All across the country, band-aid police reform has failed again and again to change institutions defined by impunity.

As a former law enforcement officer myself, I watched “rules” and “policies” get violated all the time during the three and a half years I spent as a Border Patrol agent—by lowly field agents and their supervisors all the way up to top brass. The book learning and policy training that trainees receive in the academy is one thing—but the way officers are taught to work in the field and cover for one another’s missteps is another. While they are certainly distinct organizations, the Border Patrol and TPD, like law enforcement agencies all across the country, are all pervaded by the same culture of militarized brotherhood.

Consider the rhetoric of the Tucson Police Officer’s Association, the union responsible for ensuring that even TPD’s worst cops keep their jobs, frustrating even Chief Magnus. Last week TPOA accused a diverse group of concerned citizens who called in to the June 9th City Council meeting with “hijacking” the session, and in recent days they’ve gone after Ward 1 representative Lane Santa Cruz for her condemnation of Ingram-Lopez’s killing, accusing her of causing “chaos and destruction” and calling her a liar all while insisting “there was no force used in the incident,” revealing their perverse and incomprehensible understanding of “force.”

TPD’s progressive charade, led by Chief Magnus, has come to a tragic and inevitable collapse. It is now up to us as Tucsonans to insist on wholesale change and not fall for business-as-usual reforms. Starting down that path means limiting the size and reach of police by shrinking and reallocating their exorbitant yearly budgets through demilitarizing their equipment and tactics, removing officers from schools, expanding of non-emergency services that preclude armed response to mental health calls, cutting off entry points into the carceral pipeline, and investing in underfunded community organizations that specialize in services unnecessarily relegated to local cops. As local leaders make their final considerations for next year’s budget, consider asking your representatives to help equip our communities, not the police, with the investment and tools necessary to thrive.

Francisco Cantú is the author of “The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border”


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