PHOENIX — President Barack Obama came here Tuesday to speak about housing and the economy inside a local high school, while outside hundreds of protesters wielded signs, chanted slogans and argued with each other.
Racially charged sentiment infused the protests and split the crowd both politically and physically. Obama supporters congregated on the west side of the road in front of the high school and his critics lined up across the street.
Obama foes at one point sang, “Bye Bye Black Sheep,” a derogatory reference to the president’s skin color, while protesters like Deanne Bartram raised a sign saying, “Impeach the Half-White Muslim!”
Many on both sides wore red, white and blue and carried small flags.
“It just kind of happened naturally,” said Michael Pomales of how the opposing sides separated. Pomales, an 18-year-old Ahwatukee Foothills resident, said he decided to join the protesters side “to spread a little love” as the crowds began shouting at each other.
Pomales said his response to people yelling for Obama to go back from where he came from is simple: “He’s a great man. He cares about what I care about, education, jobs. He’s our president. He’s an American.”
Deanna Bartram, a 17-year-old University of Arizona student from Black Canyon City, lashed out at people who call her racist for not supporting Obama. She believes Obama supporters use the “race card” against her because they disagree with her political message.
“Obama is ruining American values. He is ruining the Constitution. He needs to go back to where he came from because obviously, he is a liar,” she said. “I am not racist. I am part Indian. Obama’s half black, half white.”
“He’s 47 percent Negro,” shouted Ron Enderle, a 77-year-old Chandler resident who said that he and his son served as Marines and his grandson is currently serving in the Marines.
Enderle criticized the president handling security at the U.S. Benghazi Embassy.
“My grandson is third-generation Marine, and it bothers me to have this man as our commander in chief. I’m ashamed,” Enderle said.
Judy Burris said that she blames Obama for racism in America reaching heights not seen since the 1960s Civil Rights Era.
“We have gone back so many years,” she said. “He’s divided all the races. I hate him for that.”
She said that she brought her 12-year-old grandson Christian Cabrera to the protests because she thought it would be educational.
“He’s Mexican,” she said of her grandson.
Cabrera said he wanted to accompany his grandmother “so I could protest about impeaching Obama.”
Immigration was also part of the debate.
Victor Cos, from Los Angeles, called Obama a “dictator in chief” and said he supports Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio for president to keep crime rates low.
On the other extreme, Puente Arizona demanded an end to deportations, saying breadwinners are shipped off at the expense of their dependents.
“Right now, we are dealing with a separation of families,” said volunteer Josh Mercado. “The breadwinners are getting deported and the kids are the most affected. Arizona feels working is a crime.”
Jonathan Rines, a retired member of the U.S. Navy, and his wife, Angelica, said they support Obama and were appalled at some of the negativity in the crowd, especially the “Bye Bye Black Sheep” singing.
“There’s so much extremism in Arizona,” said Jonathan. “The people who are doing that are a vocal minority.”