Anti-racism protests for justice have now taken place in all 50 states — and some have continued on for several days in a row. In Denver, demonstrations have gone on for six straight days already. And while they’ve certainly included some tense moments, instances of violence, and hundreds of arrests, it looks as if locals are undeterred and will continue fighting for what is right.
Protests erupted following the brutal death of George Floyd at police hands, but those who have followed the Black Lives Matter movement since its inception in 2013 know that this incident was far from isolated. Although Black Lives Matter is not technically a nonprofit organization (of which there are 113,000 arts-related entities nationwide), it currently has 28 chapters throughout the U.S. and Canada. The mission statement of the organization is “to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes.” Although systems like railway transportation have been around for roughly 200 years in the United States, those involving racial oppression have been engrained in the fabric of the nation for far longer — making these systemic injustices no easy task to dismantle.
BLM hosted protests all across the country after Floyd’s fatal encounter with law enforcement, most of which began peacefully. But at the demonstrations in Denver, which began last Thursday, anger quickly boiled over. By Thursday evening, protestors had vandalized the Capitol building with graffiti and damaged vehicles in the area. But despite Mayor Michael Hancock’s pleas to keep the protests peaceful, it’s clear that community outrage had reached a tipping point. On Friday morning, events were peaceful at the onset. Protestors marched from the state Capitol to the City and County Building, down the 16th Street Mall, and back to the Capitol, concluding at the Greek Amphitheater. But later on, demonstrators and law enforcement faced off at 14th Street and Broadway, with Denver police and SWAT team members joining forces. Near the intersection of East Colfax Avenue and Lincoln Street, local police officers used nonlethal projectiles and tear gas on the crowd.
Thousands of people turned out for the third day of protests, which prompted other police departments to send in officers; approximately 100 members of the Colorado National Guard were also present at nine different areas throughout the city. In spite of the fact that an 8 pm curfew had been issued, protestors remained. Police issued a warning shortly before 8 pm that protesters “would be subject to immediate arrest” if they were on the street and then deployed large amounts of tear gas in an effort to get the crowd to disperse. Nearly 2,000 people remained after the curfew took place, prompting police to again use tear gas (along with pepper balls, pepper spray, and sound devices). Protesters continued to march until at least 10 pm, though mass gatherings had dissolved into smaller groups and dumpster fires.
Sunday started off with a sense of quiet, as community members gathered together to clean up spray paint and pick up discarded plastic bottles. An hour away in Colorado Springs, shows of supposed solidarity between police and protestors took place later on Sunday evening before tear gas and rubber bullets descended upon the crowds. Back in Denver, another 170 people were arrested Sunday evening — bringing the total arrest count to 284. Although there are over 70,000 licensed attorneys practicing in the state of Texas, it’s obvious that hundreds of Colorado residents will be in need of some sort of legal representation (not to mention bail funding) as a result of the protests. While many arrests were associated with the violation of the curfew order, other charges included criminal mischief, assault on a police officer, burglary, and arson.
On Monday, protests remained relatively peaceful, though the city of Denver extended the curfew order through the end of the week. By mid-afternoon, one suspected driver of a vehicle that hit three Denver Police Department officers and one civilian had been arrested; he is now facing charges of first-degree assault and attempted first-degree assault. But by 10 pm, most of the protesters remained peaceful — perhaps thanks, in part, to the smaller police presence or the smaller crowds observed than on previous evenings. And although hundreds of protesters still remained downtown well after curfew on Monday, the demonstrations were peaceful throughout.
The developments prompted Governor Jared Polis to speak out against the injustices and horrific actions by police: “What happened to George Floyd was not only wrong, it was brutal; it was inhumane; it was murder… To those who are peacefully protesting, I want you to know that I see you. I hear you, and I grieve with you. And more importantly, I want to work with you — to make Colorado better and America better.”
Governor Polis has yet to draft any specific actions about what that might entail, though he did express concerns about quelling the spread of COVID-19. Not surprisingly, Polis also condemned the destruction of property that took place during the protests and riots. Denver police plan to host a virtual community meeting on Wednesday night to discuss department improvements and suggestions from local residents. Whether protests will continue to stay peaceful remains to be seen.