Protests And Promises: Recapping A Historic Week Of Activism On The Front Range
Protesters plan to take to the streets across the Front Range again this weekend, with calls on social media for mass gatherings in Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins and Greeley, amid continued demands for reform to Colorado’s justice system ignited by the death of George Floyd.
The planned demonstrations follow a week of mostly peaceful activism in the region, which saw declines in incidents of vandalism, looting and arrests. Some elected officials also outlined promises to work with protesters to make lasting change.
Here’s a recap of some of the week’s highlights, captured by KUNC reporters:
Saturday, May 30:
Thousands of demonstrators marched around the Capitol building in Denver, wearing masks and waving signs. Many encouraged honking from cars passing by.
Larisa Grace Tardiff, 33, handed out bottles of water and masks to people around her. Tardiff, who lives in Denver, helped organize a peaceful protest event on Facebook. More than 7,000 people RSVP’d.
“I’ve cried multiple times,” she said. “It’s amazing.”
Tardiff said her 14-year-old son, who is black, was racially profiled by police last year.
When she called to report that someone had broken into her car, law enforcement came to investigate, she said. After they arrived, the first thing they did was ask her son if he was carrying any weapons.
“That’s what lit the fire under me,” Tardiff said. “We have to do inter-race relations at the beginning of police education. A lot of people are racist and they don’t even know it.”
Following several nights of vandalism and looting, Saturday also saw the institution of Denver’s first mandatory curfew in modern history. (The curfew has since been lifted).
Mayor Michael Hancock announced the measure at a press conference outside the Denver Civic Center. Standing in front of several broken windows, he thanked the many peaceful protesters for making their voices heard.
“We hoped we would not have had to take these steps,” Hancock said. “But the aggressive and dangerous actions taken by some individuals under the cover of darkness has made it necessary.”
Sunday, May 31:
Protests were peaceful throughout the day, with tensions rising at night between Denver police and a group of protesters who defied the city’s 8 p.m. curfew.
Officers fired tear gas at protesters who were also throwing fireworks and other objects at them.
Meanwhile, residents in smaller communities, including Boulder and Fort Collins , called for others to join peaceful demonstrations. According to local media reports, hundreds of demonstrators marched in cities large and small throughout the weekend.
Monday, June 1:
Divisions within groups of protesters in Denver returned again Monday as some in the crowd called for a more confrontational approach with police officers. Others – often self-appointed leaders – struggled to rein in those factions.
Those advocating for peaceful protests deployed knee-taking and moments of silence periodically throughout the night as tactics to keep the crowd calm, allowing high emotions to cool down.
Others countered that a passive stance was not safe.
“Please do not get on your knees,” one man pleaded. “When there are riot cops over there, over there and right there … you do not let them rush you.”
Police vehicles skirted the edges of the crowd in front of the Capitol building, but remained at a distance.
Around 11:15 p.m., confrontation seemed imminent. Twice, protesters approached distant police vehicles, hands raised. But at each approach, law enforcement declined to engage. They reversed their vehicles and left the scene.
"Everyone take a knee. Tonight has been a victory. Tonight has been peaceful," a protester told the crowd with a megaphone as police backed away.
The announcement was followed by chants of "black lives bring peace."
Tuesday, June 2:
On the steps of the state Capitol, facing a crowd, Democratic lawmakers announced they would introduce a bill to increase police transparency and accountability in Colorado.
“I want you all to know that your voices and your cries have been heard,” Rep. Leslie Herod (D) said. “We have family members who have been affected who have been fighting for this for years. And people have said, ‘It’s not time.’”
Herod was joined by family members of black Coloradans who have lost loved ones due to violent encounters with local police, including Denver resident Natalia Marshall, who is a member of George Floyd’s extended family.
“I hate to say this, but I know exactly how George’s family feels,” Marshall said.
Her uncle, Michael Marshall, was killed by deputies in a Denver jail in 2015.
“Let’s put these murderers behind bars where they belong,” she told the crowd.
The new bill would require all police officers to use body cameras, outlaw chokeholds when arrests are being made and prohibit police departments from hiring officers who’ve been convicted of a violent crime or inappropriate use of force.
The bill also requires officers to intervene when another officer is using inappropriate force.
You can monitor the bill’s progress on the Colorado legislature’s website.
Gov. Jared Polis also spoke publicly about the protests for the first time.
In a press conference, he called Floyd’s death an “inhumane murder.” Floyd was killed after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, suffocating him.
Polis also denounced violent protesting and said some demonstrators in Denver were distracting from the peaceful protests calling for justice and equality.
“To those that are peacefully protesting, I want you to know that I see you,” Polis said. “I hear you and I grieve with you. More importantly, I want to work with you.”
In his remarks, Polis criticized calls from President Donald Trump to use more force against protesters.
When asked what reforms or proposals he would support in Colorado to respond to the demonstrations, he did not offer any specifics.
Meanwhile, local media reported smaller protests continuing in Boulder and Fort Collins.
Wednesday, June 3:
A Denver police officer was fired for posting a photo on Instagram of himself and two other officers in tactical gear with the caption, “Let’s start a riot.”
Officer Thomas McClay was terminated a day after the Denver Police Department launched an investigation into the post.
The news came the same day that the city’s police chief held an online community forum to address issues within the department.
Chief Paul Pazen was asked questions about body cameras and chokeholds, as well as policies on removing racist officers and the use of tear gas and projectiles during the protests.
Pazen said that “overall” his officers were keeping people safe.
“I’m encouraged but I also see things that I’m not proud of,” he said. “That takes away from the great work that the vast majority of our officers are doing.”
Pazen said there will be an independent review of use-of-force incidents during the protests.
Neil Yarbrough, a Denver resident who moderated the forum, thanked Pazen and the other participants. Yarbrough had been active in peaceful demonstrations throughout the week.
“I think this is a great first step for us to have some great change,” Yarbrough said. “ I feel like this is the first time in this country where we’re actually having that tough talk about injustice and racism.”
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock also joined protesters in front of the Capitol building, where he pledged support to their cause.
“I’ve been standing with you in spirit,” Hancock said. “I’ve been working across the street trying to figure out what we can do when we’re done demonstrating.”
His speech was met with thunderous applause by the crowd. He then joined them in a march through Civic Center Park. Several present said his participation was meaningful, but they wanted to see concrete policy changes in the near future.
Friday, June 5:
Two Denver Public School Board members said they want to terminate the district’s contract with the city’s police department. Jennifer Bacon, the board’s vice president, and Tay Anderson, board secretary, made the announcement on the steps of West High School near downtown.
“We want to be able to have a school system where students are greeted with school nurses and full-time mental health support,” Anderson said. “Not the Denver Police Department.”
Denver police currently provide DPS with 18 school resource officers. They work in the district’s middle and high schools.
Since 2014, DPD officers have ticketed or arrested students 4,540 times. Most students were black or Latinx and between the ages of 10 and 15 years old, Anderson said.
“We cannot look our students in the eyes and say, ‘We believe your lives matter,’” Anderson said. “(If) we’re welcoming you with a law enforcement officer and not mental health support, not school social workers, not restorative justice coordinators.”
Meanwhile, calls for gatherings in other parts of the state began to grow. In Greeley, demonstrators held a vigil for George Floyd.
While smaller than the Denver turnout, hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Monfort Park on Friday evening to protest racism and police brutality. Organizers called on attendees to remain peaceful, saying that instances of vandalism and looting in other cities were not representative of what the movement is calling for.
Speakers called for the community to come together, to hold each other accountable, and to hold police accountable.
The protest ended with organizers gathering everyone to march through the park to line up along a busy Greeley street, holding signs and chanting.