The 4/20 rally at Civic Center Park has been a Denver tradition since 1993. But the 2013 edition was cut short after a shooting that remains unsolved. And so, too, does the murder of 4/20 rally founder Ken Gorman, slain seven years ago today.
Current rally organizer Miguel Lopez underscores these points in a preview of the 2014 rally, which is likely to look different from its predecessors -- and may include citations for public pot smoking. Photos and more details below.
Our 2010 feature article about Ken Gorman describes the incident that led to his death like so:
Ken Gorman, center, in 1994 -- a year after he founded the 4/20 rally.
When Ken Gorman heard the intruders burst through the front door, he sprang from his room and ran through the hallway toward the sounds of shuffling feet. He'd been robbed dozens of times before, always around the harvest, but that night he was equipped to fight back. Just a few days earlier, he'd told friends and family he would be ready for the next thief who tried to get away with his cache of high-grade marijuana, which he grew in his back-room nursery and sold to more than a hundred "patients."
But the sixty-year-old Gorman never reached his brand-new shotgun. The burglars beat him to the draw.
Gorman fell as the bullet ripped through his flesh and into his heart -- one clean, fatal shot -- leaving his tall, slender body sprawled in the living room of his Athmar Park duplex. Minutes later, a neighbor found Gorman's lifeless body and called police.
As Lopez points out in his 2014 rally update, seen below in its entirety, the gunmen left cash and marijuana behind after the shooting. In his words, "It is the explicit desire of the Denver 420 Rally to remind the marijuana community of the history of one of its founders. The Denver 420 Rally also strives to keep his memory alive and see his murderers brought to justice."
Despite Gorman's slaying, Lopez argues that his legacy survives, with the 4/20 rally being perhaps the most prominent example. During the early years of the event, attendees tended to number in the hundreds. But over time, thousands more joined them, inspiring the gathering to expand to multiple days. But last year, the Sunday, April 21 portion of the celebration was canceled after gunfire pierced the peaceful atmosphere the previous day.
In the aftermath of the April 20, 2013 shooting.
Photo by Brandon Marshall
At around 5 p.m. on April 20, 2013, as we've reported, shots rang out in the park during a performance by hip-hop act Lil' Flip, causing the enormous throng to scatter. In the end, three people were wounded: Two were hit in the leg, while a third person was grazed by a bullet.
In the hours afterward, a person of interest was identified and photos were circulated. But this suspect was subsequently cleared, and to this date, no one has been charged in the shooting.
Lopez equates the unresolved nature of these events, suggesting that they epitomize the "level of priority" paid to crimes that victimize members of the marijuana community -- and "to add insult to injury, cops this year plan to write citations in spite of the $11,000 that the Denver 420 Rally paid for the permit. They don't write citations for The Taste of Denver, which also draws a wealthier crowd."
A photo from the 2012 event.
Public pot smoking is explicitly forbidden by Amendment 64, which allows adults 21 and over to use and possess small amounts of marijuana -- but many years, law enforcers have largely resisted the urge to crack down on such displays at the 4/20 rally. If tickets are indeed handed out in 2014, this action would represent a decisive break with past practices that could escalate tensions.
Nonetheless, Lopez maintains that this year's bash will be the largest yet, in part because it's "evolving into a festival." But he stresses that organizers will continue delivering political messages, just as Gorman did.
Here's the complete Denver 4/20 rally release:
Ken Gorman murdered seven years ago today. Legacy lives on while murder remains unsolved.
February 17, 2014 -- Denver, CO -- Seven years ago today, gunmen in masks walked into renowned marijuana activist Ken Gorman's home and shot him in the chest. The murderers left cash and marijuana behind, and Ken's death left behind grieving marijuana activists. His murder remains unsolved.
Ken's lasting legacy is one that touched members of the marijuana community of all walks, but primarily the poor and disadvantaged. His charisma attracted a large following and he had an almost cult like following of young urban adults of whom many were homeless or poor. He taught of the injustices of marijuana prohibition and how it impacted minority and poorer communities the most. In 1993 he started the Denver 420 Rally at Civic Center Park, which through time gathered hundreds of attendees.
Many people in the marijuana scene today never knew Ken. Acting as though they were the ones to bring about the drug policy reform Ken launched in Colorado, they forget that there were people who literally made the ultimate sacrifice for them to be able to capitalize on the growing marijuana industry. It is the explicit desire of the Denver 420 Rally to remind the marijuana community of the history of one of its founders. The Denver 420 Rally also strives to keep his memory alive and see his murderers brought to justice. Tragically, the fact that Ken's murder has never been solved highlights an issue that is largely ignored by the general public, and that is the reality that law enforcement rarely serves justice for the poor.
The Denver 420 Rally experienced this recently with last year's shooting. The Denver Police and Denver City Council want to nag the organizers of the rally about security, yet even with cameras and witnesses, they still haven't found the shooter. Federal agents nabbed the Boston bomber and he wasn't even at the scene! This goes to show the level of priority being given to two different communities. To add insult to injury, cops this year plan to write citations in spite of the $11,000 that the Denver 420 Rally paid for the permit. They don't write citations for The Taste of Denver, which also draws a wealthier crowd.
This year will be the Denver 420 Rally's biggest event yet. Historically a rally, the Denver 420 Rally is evolving into a festival. Yet, that does not mean that the organization will stop being a political organization and promoting human and civil rights. There have been a lot of positive changes in drug policy reform, but until everyone is free and marijuana is decriminalized, the Denver 420 Rally will still be championing for social justice.
We hope to see you there and in the famous words of the late Ken Gorman, "Keep on smoking them joints!"
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Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.
More from our Marijuana archive circa February 2012: "Marijuana activist Ken Gorman remembered on fifth anniversary of his murder."