Yesterday, after additional walkouts at metro-area high schools in protest of the Michael Brown grand jury decision, the Denver police union publicly claimed students at a previous East High demonstration had cheered and chanted "Hit him again" after four officers were injured in a car crash, one critically. This assertion holds the possibility of further inflaming an already incendiary situation -- but some parties are trying to prevent things from devolving into greater conflict or even violence.
As we've reported, approximately 500 students walked out of East at around 10 a.m. on December 3. Some demonstrators headed toward the State Captiol and the 16th Street Mall, while others wound up on Colfax, where East is located, blocking traffic at the Colfax-Broadway intersection.
Then, around noon, near the intersection of Colfax and High, a Mercedes driven by a man said to have been suffering from a medical condition struck four Denver police officers in the bicycle unit; they'd been assigned to crowd control. Three of the officers were treated and released from an area hospital later in the day, but the fourth, Officer John Adsit, was critically injured. He subsequently stabilized after surgery on Wednesday but may require additional procedures. No other details of his condition have been released.
The Denver Police Protective Association has learned that immediately after the horrible accident yesterday injuring four Denver Police Officers, several parties in the protesting group cheered and chanted "hit him again." These actions are not only reprehensible but quite possibly the most disturbing thing this Association has ever heard. This group of high school students not only broke DPS rules by leaving school without authorization, but broke laws of the City and County of Denver and State of Colorado regarding traffic regulations and the right to assemble with a permit. The DPPA recognizes citizens' rights to assemble lawfully. This, however, was not a lawful assembly, which ultimately cost four Denver Police Officers a trip to the hospital. One of which is in critical condition.
The DPPA followed this broadside with a second, slightly less bellicose release:
The Denver Police Protective Association recognizes all citizens' rights to the First Amendment and the right to assemble lawfully. We do not recognize groups that continually ignore the law and expect the police to protect them while they break the law.
It is unlawful to walk down the middle of any roadway regardless of why you are there. These unlawful protests cost taxpayers countless amounts of money. More importantly, during these unlawful protests, a tremendous amount of police resources are used to monitor and protect the protesting group, leaving regular law abiding citizens with little or no police coverage. If a domestic violence situation occurs, there may be no officers to respond to assist a helpless victim. If a residential burglary occurs, again no police to respond. You understand our frustration, because we took an oath to help all law abiding citizens, which we do faithfully every day.
There is a lawful way to protest and the City administration needs to hold everyone to that standard.
The police union attacks on the protesters echo those floated during September walkouts by students in Jefferson County over what they saw as a patriotically slanted history-curriculum plan. Rather than lauding them for civic engagement and a willingness to take a stand about controversial issues of the day, critics painted participants as brainwashed dupes who merely wanted an excuse to get out of class. In the wake of the DPPA assertions, more statements followed. One from Denver Public Schools reads:
We have no knowledge of the alleged comments. We would deplore any such comments and will look into the allegation, and would welcome any evidence that would assist us in an investigation. All afternoon yesterday and all day today, students at East expressed their deep concern for Officer Adsit and his family and their appreciation for the police assistance in ensuring student safety during the march. In a very moving moment, student leaders at East today presented Denver Police Chief Robert White with flowers to give on their behalf to the officer and his family. We are deeply grateful for the work of our police force in keeping our students safe over the past two days, and our thoughts and prayers are with Officer Adsit in hopes of a full recovery. We have conveyed very strongly to our students the importance of all our students conducting themselves in a respectful and thoughtful manner and are examining certain instances over the last two days where our students did not do so.
Meanwhile, the Denver Police Department attempted to calm the waters with this take:
The Denver Police Department cannot independently confirm claims that students cheered after the officers were struck protecting protesters yesterday. However, if in fact there were inappropriate actions taken by a few students Chief White does not believe this reflects the opinions of the vast majority of protesters from East high school yesterday.
Chief White Met with student organizers from East high school today and even facilitated a meeting between the organizers and officer Adsit's family.
Chief White hopes that we are able to move forward as a community and nation to continue building a relationship between police and the communities they serve.
A similarly conciliatory tone was struck by Denver City Councilman Albus Brooks, who appears to be doing his best to play a positive role amid rising tensions.
Yesterday, he tweeted this photo of a meeting that included Denver Police Chief Robert White and East students....
— Albus Brooks (@AlbusBrooksD8) December 4, 2014
...as well as this message about another attempt to bridge the gap:
— Albus Brooks (@AlbusBrooksD8) December 4, 2014
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Nonetheless, the possibility of more protests -- and more acrimony -- looms, especially in the wake of another controversial no-indictment decision in the case of another police-related death of a black male, New York's Eric Garner. A Wednesday night protest about Garner in Denver led to four arrests.
Here's a CBS4 report about yesterday's student walkouts.
Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.