Denver Protests

Craziness

Saturday, May 30th

We went to the May 30th protest at Civic Center Park. We were there for a few hours during the day, leaving around 4pm. I would describe the character of the protest as being energetic, angry, but contained. A huge crowd moved in and around civic center, chanting and being rowdy, but clearly was being led.

After a last hurrah at the pavilion it seemed that the organized event was “over”. We stayed a while longer, and eventually headed back home. I don’t feel that people really left the park at the same time we did; mostly everyone just dispersed around the park and found somewhere to keep hanging out.

Tonight there has been an 8pm curfew. The police lined up on the north side of the park, armored and clearly ready for action. We watched all of this on the live news stations, gritting our teeth through the comentary of their reporters. As the police stood there, the clock counting down to 8, the protesters grew more and more irritated. They taunted the police, and formed a line of their own. The braver (or more dramatic) protesters walked around in the no-man’s land between them, occasionally earning themselves some teargas.

The police began pushing forward just before 8 a little, but began pushing in earnest just after 8, after the howling. They would advance, wait, advance, wait again. An armada of police cars, ambulance, and fire trucks followed the line as it advanced.

The police did not give the protesters anywhere to go except into Capital Hill, southeast of Civic Center Park. We watched as a huge crowd marched past the front of our house, chanting their call and response: “What’s his name?” “GEORGE FLOYD”. The feeling wasn’t of violence still, just anger. Indignant at a curfew aimed at quelling a movement, the protesters simply kept moving. The police were never far behind.

We sat on our front stoop with our neighbors and watched the night unfold. I don’t think a single person in our building or the buildings to the left and right of us hadn’t gone to protest today in some capacity. We came back from our various outings and sat out front, watching the crowds and patrolling up and down the street to keep tabs on things.

Around 9pm the fires started. We saw them on the news, and in person. They were generally dumpster fires, generally placed such that they were away from buildings, clearly being done more to be annoying than to accomplish anything specific. A very large set of fires was started a block south of us, in the middle of the street. The fire department was there within a few minutes to put those out, before moving on.

From the corner of my eye, sitting back on the stoop, I noticed our neighbors running into their backyard. We ran after them, and they told us there was a dumpster fire in our alley. They were running with fire extinguishers, and we ran inside to grab some of our own. By the time we got to the backyard the fire was only smouldering, and the fire department was coming down the alley. We scurried back into the backyard. A few minutes later I peeked my head around the corner, into the alley, to see what happening. I was greeted by at least two police in riot gear, guarding the dumpster as the fire department worked. They saw me but didn’t move, and I quickly retreated back to the yard.

Talking to our neighbor later we found out she had seen a group of about 10 people back there, and watched them jump the fence into another backyard in order to escape the alley. She thinks they, or some subset of them, started the fire. She looked one in the eye, she says, and didn’t get the impression they were trying to cause damage, just to make a statement.

The fires stopped not long after that, it seems. We’re pretty sure the fire trucks were just driving up and down the main roads, looking into alleys and stopping all fires they could find. In all this time the police didn’t do much. They would hold a line, but never chase anyone. Even now, as I write this around midnight, people are still out, meandering around in small groups, and police are present but not really doing anything.

It’s hard to get a good view of everything though. All we have is livestreams on youtube to go on at this point. There’s a couple intrepid amateur reporters out there, getting into the crowds and streaming events as they happen. Right now we’re watching people moving down Lincoln towards Civic Center Park, some of them trying to smash windows of buildings as they go.

The violence of these protests is going to be the major story of tonight, I know that already. That I know of there’s been 3 police injured, some broken windows, and quite a bit of graffiti. I do believe the the tactic of pushing everyone into Cap Hill had the desired effect of reducing looting (again, as far as I can tell so far), but at that expense of those who live here who have to endure latent tear gas, dumpster fires, and sirens all through the night.

Even now, at midnight, from what I can see from my porch and from these live streams, the protesters are not violent. At worst they are guilty of a lot of loitering. The graffiti, the smashed windows, the injured officers, all of these things will be held up as examples of the anarchy and violence inherent to the protesters. But I don’t think that’s an honest picture. The vast, vast majority of those out right now are civily disobeying an unjust curfew, trying to keep the energy of the movement alive.

My thoughts about these things are complicated. When turning a corner on the street I’m far more afraid to see the police than to see other protesters. The fires have been annoying, and stupid, and unhelpful, but were never threatening. The violence is stupid, though I don’t shed many tears for a looted Chili’s or Papa Johns. The police have actually shown more restraint than I expected in all of this, though funneling the protest into a residential neighborhood was an incredibly stupid move. Could the protesters not have just stayed in the park? Yes, the park would likely have been turned into an encampment, but it was already heading into that direction due to Covid-19. Overall, this night didn’t need to be so hard, but Denver handled this well.

But, it’s only 1am, and the night has a long way to go. Things could still get worse. Even now I’m watching people trying to break into the supreme court building. Civic Center Park appears to be very populated again, and the police are very present there again. It’s possible I may eat my words.

Monday, June 1st

Yesterday was quite a bit more tame than the craziness Saturday. I woke up Sunday morning feeling antsy, and rode my bike around to see the damage. I had a long conversation with a homeless man named Gary in Civic Center Park. He was pissed, and had a lot to say about the “suburban kids” destroying the park he and many others live in, causing it to be shut down and tear gassed. The protesters saw it as a game, according to him, but it was life and death for the homeless; three of his guys got beat up in the street, and neither police nor protesters stopped it.

Many people had shown up to the park early to help clean it up. Apart from the graffiti, which was also in the process of being cleaned, it was hard to tell anything had actually happened. Gary had some words about them as well, that they were only there for the gram and some pats on the back, but once they left his life would be back as it was. I could feel that, but I also appreciated that people were cognizant that damage was being done and were willing to do something about it.

I rode around 16th street mall, down colfax, and back up 13th, looking to see if anything had happened. For the most part there was no damage, save the graffiti. A mediterranean restaurant got its windows smashed, as well as the Office Depot. The restaurant was unfortunate, Office Depot will be ok.

The protest yesterday was much more peaceful. The cops were nowhere to be found when curfew hit, but did eventually show up when the protest moved down Colfax. They had lined the streets around their precinct building there, but for the most part the protesters just kept walking. This is when the “violence” started. The cops moved into the street, forming a line across Colfax behind the protesters. Police cars and vans started moving. As the protest turned back, presumably to head back to the capitol lawn, it ran into the riot line.

Predictably, everyone scattered. The cat-and-mouse game had begun, which meant dumpster fires, broken windows, tear gas, and all the rest. Watching the whole thing it was extremely clear to us, though not the news casters, unfortunately, that if the police hadn’t moved out into Colfax nothing would have ever happened. Instead, the news casters lamented that people were bringing things like helmets, gas masks, traffic cones, shields, etc… and so were clearly not there “for the right reasons”.

The thing that the news casters couldn’t seem to grasp was that the police attempting to control these situations are what are catalyzing them in the first place. These are protests against the police, they cannot take place under the terms the police choose. If the police were not here setting terms, but instead working with the peaceful protesters (the vast, vast majority) to quell the violence, no one would be here with helmets, gas masks, traffic cones, shields… But instead the protesters feel they need to protect themselves in order to be heard, and the police feel they have to exercise their power to maintain control, and so the situation degrades.