Last Thursday's 420 Rally was a disaster. The Denver police made 48 arrests, and Civic Center Park was trashed.
On April 24, Mayor Michael Hancock held a press conference in the park to address concerns about the rally, and announced that he has launched an inter-departmental review to better understand what occurred at the event and which permit requirements weren't met or went ignored.
He said he is talking with multiple city departments to figure out what rules the organizers violated, what they will be fined, and even whether the event will be allowed to occur next year. He is also considering updating Denver's permitting process for large-scale events.
"This past Friday, our city woke up to one of our most treasured and highly regarded public spaces left in an unacceptable state, covered in trash," Hancock told the gathering. "Seeing our Civic Center Park in this state was, for many of us who live in this city, including myself, deeply disappointing and discouraging. What we saw here at Civic Center Park last week was unacceptable, and changes have to be made to ensure responsible, safe events in our city."
Hancock confirmed that Department of Parks and Recreation officials were in touch with event organizers Friday morning after they saw the state of the park. Early on April 21, organizers explained to Westword that the park had not been cleaned up because a man with a knife had slashed open garbage bags and scattered trash that had already been collected. Miguel Lopez, the event's chief organizer, also said his permit gave him until noon on Friday to have the park cleaned up, and that he was working to meet that deadline.
But the trash was only one of many issues with this year's rally. Hancock says the 420 Rally was understaffed and created an unsafe environment. The event was enclosed by fencing and attendees had to go through a bag check before they were granted entry. There were very few entrances, and each entrance was staffed by only two people who were waving detectors over people's bags to try and keep weapons out of the park.
That didn't go so well.
Denver Chief of Police Robert White said that not only were security measures not met by event organizers, but security was compromised. Thousands of people were still waiting to gain entry as 4:20 grew closer, and ultimately impatient would-be attendees broke down the fence and rushed in to celebrate. That allowed individuals to enter the park without being searched. "There were some serious issues as it relates to security," White noted.
Those security issues were among Hancock's primary concerns.
"I was extremely alerted by what Chief White talked about, and that is people coming into this park unscreened the other day. By the grace of God, nothing happened, no one was injured, but they did have to make arrests from shots that were fired, and we will have to deal with that. That should never happen," Hancock said. "When those kinds of things happen, we have to have zero tolerance for it."
Three people were shot at the rally in 2013, and there were shots fired this year, too, though they were a block away from the park. No one was hurt, but the lax security is one of the main concerns that prompted the city's review.
Hancock also received e-mails from city employees complaining about the sound outside their workplaces. F-bombs rang out from the stage as early as 10 a.m. and could be heard inside the surrounding government buildings. "It's one of the things we'll look at — the sound in the middle of the day, in the middle of a workday and the disruption that occurs," Hancock said. "We'll look at all of our permitting requirements and look at opportunities for us to curtail all of the disruption that occurred."
Part of the review's purpose is to determine whether the city will allow permitting for the 420 Rally in the future.
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"[We will] make a determination on how we want to make sure our regulations speak to the kind of outcomes we all should desire in a city with these types of events," Hancock said. "This level of disorganization displayed before, during and after the event requires further action by the city."
Hancock made sure to note that such violations can occur at any event, and that the 420 Rally is not being treated any differently than other large-scale gathering. In short, he suggested, this event is not being targeted because it was a marijuana gathering with open consumption.
"Our public parks and public spaces are held in a public trust," Hancock concluded, "and when you hold events at one of these spaces, we all have the responsibility to uphold the public trust. And when you leave one of our parks trashed, you violate that trust."