Caleb Bonham didn't need a video he shot of a violent pipe attack on the 16th Street Mall to go viral in order to become fifteen minutes of famous.
He's already quite prominent thanks to D/CO Consulting, a firm he co-founded, which advises Fortune 500 companies and U.S. senators, among others. And he frequently appears as a commentator on Fox News.
Then why did he share the clip? According to him, he wanted the footage to be seen — and at this writing, it's been viewed more than 2.6 million times (up from 900,000-plus this time yesterday) — because he's alarmed at what he sees as rising danger in the area, and he wants something to be done to improve the situation.
"I've been in the Denver area off and on for many years," he says, "and I've seen certain people on the 16th Street Mall become increasingly aggressive. They're looking to cause trouble, and I'm tired of it."
The City of Denver isn't thrilled by these developments, either. Just days after we published a three-part series about violence on the 16th Street Mall, including a firsthand account of a stabbing that had gotten very little press attention, Denver officials announced a new safety plan that included a tripling of officers assigned to the area. And yesterday, Mayor Michael Hancock sent out an open letter reiterating his commitment to making the 16th Street Mall a safe place; see it below.
This goal is still quite a way off, according to Bonham, who has a bird's-eye view on one portion of the mall.
"Our office is right there on 16th and Broad, right by the Denver Post building," he notes. "We've been there for several months; we just moved offices. And we've often seen fights, we've often heard people yelling and screaming, and we've often seen police and ambulances get called to that intersection."
None of this is a secret, he maintains.
"Anybody who's familiar with downtown Denver and the 16th Street Mall is very familiar with the areas that are a little bit more dangerous. Just in the last week or so, a block away, another group of what the city is calling 'urban travelers,' whatever that means — I don't know if that's the politically correct way of talking about some of these more aggressive people — attacked a guy just walking from his office. They started punching him. And that video went viral, too."
Here's a look at the clip:
"That kind of thing is dangerous for businesses that have a lot of employees working there, or clients who want to come in, or just people walking around the mall," Bonham notes. "You can't have that."
Against this backdrop came the latest incident.
"The thing that sparked me to pull up the camera on my phone was seeing this guy running around," Bonham says about a man police identify as Clarence Seeley, 32. "He was running around with a PVC pipe, and nothing good ever comes from that. We weren't sure what was going to happen, and as soon as we saw where that went" — the man struck several people with the pipe and menaced plenty of others — "we called 911."
The Denver police responded quickly to that call and those placed by other witnesses. The department says Seeley is also being investigated for an assault in the vicinity of the mall that preceded the PVC pipe attack — and this possibility jibes with things Bonham was told.
"I talked to several people in my building," he notes, "and they said that gentleman had been running around with his shirt off screaming at people for several hours. And nothing against the cops, but they were not there to stop people from getting beaten by a PVC pipe. They were there to pick them up."
How can such offenses be prevented in the future? Bonham hasn't had a chance to do more than glance at the new safety plan, so he withholds comments about its provisions. Likewise, he resists echoing Facebook comments affixed to the video that say Seeley would never had gotten the chance to terrorize mall-goers had more of them been carrying a weapon. But he does say, "That man was undoubtedly high on something, and I certainly believe people have the right to protect themselves."
After Bonham's video became widely available, the police presence on the mall was extremely notable. "We've seen the 16th Street Mall a lot safer today," he points out. At the same time, however, he stresses that "I'm not someone who advocates for a police state; I don't think we need to have cops parked on every single corner. But I do believe people walking around need to be protected.
"Over the past few years, I've spent a lot of time in D.C., and people say that's a fairly dangerous area," he continues. "But there are areas of the 16th Street Mall that are far more dangerous, where I've encountered aggressive behavior or threatening behavior or people following you.
"You've got to make this area safe for people walking to their jobs, for people who can't defend themselves. I'm tired of seeing people who aren't looking to do anything other than enjoy Colorado, enjoy Denver, go to a ballgame or visit these businesses or whatever, getting harassed and, in some cases, getting assaulted. That's something that simply can't fly."
Strong words — but Bonham isn't without optimism.
"I think the Denver Police Department does a fantastic job, and I have nothing but faith in them to fix this," he says. "That's what makes Colorado great."
Continue to see Bonham's video of the pipe attack, followed by Mayor Hancock's open letter about the 16th Street Mall.
Denver mayor Michael Hancock letter:
The 16th Street Mall has been an iconic and important part of our city for decades and is used and enjoyed by tens of thousands of people every day. Over the years, the City and County of Denver has worked diligently to create a vibrant downtown that offers something for everyone. But, there have been recent incidents involving threatening and violent behavior. That behavior will not be tolerated and the City, in collaboration with the Downtown Denver Partnership, is taking a number of steps to address it.
The Denver Police Department has already significantly increased the number of police officers assigned to the area and is working more closely with prosecutors and the courts to prevent offenders who are endangering people’s health and safety from returning to the area. The City also plans to take additional steps in addressing public and environmental health concerns.
The City and the Downtown Denver Partnership will be working with local businesses and property owners to adopt a unified approach to preventing, halting and reporting unlawful behavior on or near their properties.
Collaboration with businesses, and you, the community is critical to the success of creating a safer and more vibrant downtown. One way you can help is to encourage people to Give a Better Way. Remind your friends and family that we can more effectively support Denver’s homeless by directly donating to support services rather than giving money to panhandlers.
Together, we will create a better, more vibrant downtown. Thank you for your partnership.
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Michael B. Hancock