Memorial Vandalism Update: Hancock "Pissed Off," More Resignation Calls

Update: The uproar over the defacing of a Denver police memorial during a protest over alleged law-enforcement brutality on February 14 continues to build. Now, the Fraternal Order of Police has joined the Denver Police Protective Association's call for Denver Police Chief Robert White's resignation in a letter on view below — and the FOP has upped the ante by asking Mayor Michael Hancock to demand that Manager of Safety Stephanie O'Malley (who's backed White) step down, too.

Mayor Michael Hancock is using uncommonly frank language to describe the situation, announcing that "I was pissed off" over the vandalism. Meanwhile, a fundraising campaign has been launched for the family of Ryan Ronquillo, who was gunned down by police at a funeral home last year, in an effort to prevent them from losing their house in the wake of his death in a controversial police shooting. Details and more below.

As noted in our previous coverage, the DPPA — Denver's police union — is upset at an order to officers assigned to the Saturday protest that they allow the vandalism of the memorial to fallen officers take place before placing the suspects, Robert Guerrero and Matthew Goldberg, under arrest. O'Malley defends the tactic, which put her in the cross-hairs of the Fraternal Order of Police alongside White. Here's an excerpt from the lengthy FOP jeremiad, which also chastises Hancock for not decrying the vandalism more quickly:
The only organizations to immediately speak out publicly condemning this shameful act were the Denver Police Protective Association and the Fraternal Order of Police. The failure of Chief White, Director O'Malley and you to immediately make a public statement condemning this act and apologizing to the citizens of Denver, its police officers, and the family members of the fallen for it happening is unacceptable.
Such criticism comes at an awkward moment for Hancock, who's just launched his reelection campaign, Yesterday, he tried to make up for lost time in the anger department during a meeting with reporters covered by news agencies such as CBS4. "When I heard what had happened, I was pissed off,” he announced.

However, he added that "I support Chief White and I support his command staff’s decision to stand down and not put police officers in harm’s way."

Amid the outrage over the memorial vandalism and demands for officials' heads, the criticism of police tactics in the cases of Ronquillo and Jessie Hernandez, among others, has gotten short shrift in media coverage — a matter of intense frustration for organizers, whose response appears below.

In an attempt to refocus the conversation, groups such as Occupy Denver and the Colorado Foreclosure Resistance Coalition are drawing attention to a GoFundMe campaign on behalf of the Ronquillo family entitled "Help Save the Ronquillos' Home."

Here's the introduction to the page:
On July 2, 2014, Denver Police brutally killed 20 year old Ryan Ronquillo as he sat in his car outside a friend's funeral outside the Romero Funeral Home in Northwest Denver.

Ryan's family was left with overwhelming funeral and burial costs. Due to the horrific and sudden nature of their loss, Ryan's parents also were unable to work for weeks as they grappled with the loss of their eldest son.

Now, to add insult to injury, Ryan's family faces a foreclosure on their family home in the Barnum Park Neighborhood of Southwest Denver. This house represents one of the last links the family has to Ryan, as it was his childhood home. The house is full of memories of Ryan's life and legacy.

The Ronquillos have already lost their son. To lose their house after such an overwhelming tragedy would make any process of healing and fighting for justice all the more daunting, let alone the struggle of basic survival.

Please help us spread the word and work to save the Ronquillos' family home.
At this writing, the campaign has raised $360 toward a goal of $10,000.

For more information about the GoFundMe campaign, click here. Look below to see a CBS4 report about the latest developments, followed by the Fraternal Order of Police letter and our previous coverage.

Fraternal Order of Police Letter to Michael Hancock.pdf

Original post, 5:40 a.m. February 16: A protest against police violence on Saturday afternoon was intended to draw attention to incidents like the officer-involved shootings into vehicles that left Ryan Ronquillo and Jessie Hernandez dead. But much to the chagrin of organizers, this message has gotten lost to a large degree after two demonstrators spilled red paint over a memorial to fallen officers, prompting the head of Denver's police union to call for the resignation of Denver Police Chief Robert White — because officers allowed this act to happen before busting the alleged perpetrators.

Meanwhile, Manager of Safety Stephanie O'Malley is defending the cops for showing restraint and offering support to White.

There's no agreement on how many people took part in the march; we've seen estimates varying between 100 and 300. However, a DAM Collective video on view below shows that the emphasis of most participants was on violent police episodes and expressing solidarity with victims' family members.

Here's a screen capture from the video:

However, the image from the march that led Denver newscasts involved red paint on the fallen officers-memorial.

Shortly after it took place, Nick Rogers, head of the Denver Police Protective Association (the city's police union), gave "exclusive" interviews to pretty much every news agency in town about what he saw as a preventable act of disrespect,

In a conversation with CBS4, Rogers said officers on the scene had told him their superiors had ordered them "not to interfere and to let the vandalism happen" — a tactic that incensed him.

"There is no reason to allow someone to desecrate a memorial," he told the station. "There is no reason to allow that to happen, it’s wrong.... We have a breaking point, and we are there.

“I will ask all 1,400 police officers to rally, and we will respond to the mayor’s office in unison to hand him a letter asking for the chief’s resignation,” Rogers added.

Responding to the resignation demand, Manager of Safety O'Malley offered a strong defense of the DPD's actions. Her statement reads:
On February 15, 2015, approximately 100 people gathered in an expression of free speech against the Denver Police Department. The City of Denver and the Department of Safety respect and protect the right of free speech and were present to protect those rights during the march. When the protest reached Denver Police Headquarters two of the protestors defaced the Denver Police Memorial to Fallen Officers and sprayed paint on other surfaces in the courtyard. These parties were identified and arrested later.

It is clearly illegal and outside protected free speech to damage or destroy property. It is further unacceptable to ever desecrate a grave or memorial for any person. These actions are inconsistent with the values of the Denver community. The responsible parties are now facing charges and I am confident that the criminal justice process will respond appropriately.
Some have expressed outrage that police did not immediately confront the protestors and arrest those responsible for the damage. They have even gone so far as to demand Chief White’s resignation. I wholeheartedly disagree.

The Denver Police Department has developed a non-confrontational strategy when dealing with free speech protests. When it is appropriate (to prevent injury and to prevent escalation of the protestors), the Denver Police Department prefers to identify suspects and arrest them after the protests conclude. This is far safer for the officers, the suspects, and the community. I applaud Chief White and the members of the police department for their restraint and response [Saturday]. These strategies are considered a model for other cities as they respond to a growing wave of protests across America.

I understand that tensions are high among many communities, including some police employees. However, I can assure everyone that we are working diligently to collectively address frustrations, identify areas for improvement, and continue to make Denver one of the best communities in the nation.
A similar statement was issued by Denver mayor Michael Hancock:
I stand in full support of Chief White and the command staff's handling of Saturday's protest, as well as the numerous protests that have occurred in Denver the past few months. I condemn the repulsive defacing of the Fallen Officer Memorial and believe the officers showed great restraint and dignity in a terrible situation. The decision not to engage with the protesters and escalate the conflict was the right one, and the perpetrators of this despicable act will be punished. I ask that we not allow this incident to deter the community and police department's commitment to finding solutions that will lead to a more just and united Denver, together.
The debate about White's fate particularly incensed members of the Denver Community Defense Committee. They're frustrated by the media's focus on memorial vandalism, as is passionately expressed in the following Facebook post:
On Saturday February 14, over 300 people marched through the streets of Denver to show solidarity with families who have lost their loved ones or had their loved one's lives threatened because of police violence.

When the March arrived at the Denver Police Headquarters, a bucket of paint was thrown by unknown March participants at a memorial to police officers who have been killed while in performance of their jobs. This single action has gained the most attention in the media, and has become a rallying call for Denver police and those who defend their actions.

We, as the members of the Denver Community Defense Committee, the organization that planned the March against Police Terror, voice our unwavering support and solidarity to all those who participated in the protests and March [Saturday].

It is telling that at this moment, local media and the Denver Police Department are more offended over red paint being splashed on a piece of stone than the very real red blood that continues to stain our streets because of unchecked police violence. Although the paint was easily washed off the memorial, the scars left by police terror can never be washed away.
That a police department that stages raids to serve non-violent warrants on unarmed suspects during funerals, as was the case when police killed Ryan Ronquillo on July 2, 2014 outside the Romero Funeral Home during a funeral, would then complain about a small amount of paint on a piece of stone as "dis-honoring the dead" is beyond insulting.

That a police department that would handcuff, search, and then brutalize an already dead body as they did on January 26, 2015 after they killed 17 year old Jessie Hernandez, would denounce an act of non-violent protest as "disrespectful" is beyond sickening.

It is an act of extreme injustice that two people will face charges in court, accused of throwing paint on a piece of stone, and will face more jail time and harsher punishments than any police officer who has killed an unarmed suspect in this city. While two unarmed protesters will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law for an act of civil disobedience where no one was harmed, officers like Jeffrey DiManna, who has been involved in three cases of shooting unarmed suspects in the last seven months, will continue to patrol our streets without fear of any punishment whatsoever.

With these facts as the foundation for the situation we find ourselves facing within the city of Denver, how can anyone question why people would start to feel motivated to take bolder and more desperate actions against the institutions of police violence? The people of Denver have run out of cheeks to turn. We are being pushed into a corner by a system of police who murder with complete immunity, and the city officials and District Attorneys who do nothing to stem the flow of blood in our streets.
  Two men have been arrested on suspicion of defacing the memorial: Robert Guerrero, 25, and Matthew Goldberg, 23. Their booking photos are below, along with three videos: a CBS4 report via YouTube, the aforementioned DAM Collective package and a DAM interview with a man who says he and his wife were pulled over and harassed after the protest because their vehicle bore a slogan in support of Jessie Hernandez.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts