After a few minutes of dancing and drumming at FlatIron Crossing in Broomfield on Wednesday, police officers told a large group of protesters that they had to stop. A short while later, five were in handcuffs. This is how a planned flash mob became confrontational -- at least according to some with an initiative called Idle No More, advocating for First Nations in Canada. Watch footage from the mall below.
Broomfield Police say that those arrested were causing an obstruction and refused to stop after multiple requests.
Here's blurry footage from the mall.
The first few minutes of the video shows the group chanting and dancing, and then the rest is mostly chaotic as officers stop the protests, telling them that they have to move on. Protesters are heard saying they should probably leave so that they don't risk getting arrested, and officers are heard saying, "Folks, you were asked to exit. Exit now," and, "Don't come back here or you'll be arrested!"
The event was part of an effort to raise awareness about conflicts between First Nations and the Canadian government -- which has led a chief to go on a hunger strike. The group was in Denver at the Canadian Consulate on Monday to protest and deliver a letter to officials in support of the hunger striker up north.
That event remained peaceful, even as the protesters flooded the lobby of the building where the Canadian Consulate is located. And a so-called "flash mob" at the Cherry Creek mall two days earlier also took place without conflict.
In Broomfield, though, things seem to have gotten out of hand.
"Right away, the cops came in and blocked us from dancing," says Tessa McLean, 24, who was born in Canada and is a member of the Ojibwe tribe. "They were escorting people outside the doors, saying we needed to leave and it needed to be over. If people weren't gonna go, there would be arrests. A lot of people were sent outside."
McLean says she waited to make sure people were getting out of the mall okay -- but that it quickly became clear the officers might arrest them. "Some people continued dancing in a smaller circle," she recalls.
"It was just a few minutes," she adds, noting that they started right at 6:30 p.m. and that one of the individuals arrested had a 6:35 p.m. arrest time on her citation. "We had only sang one song."
McLean was not arrested, but five others were, including a teenager.
"We weren't surprised that cops showed up," she says. "I was surprised how much more aggressive they were.... We were just really surprised how vicious they were."
Sergeant Rick Kempsell, a public information officer with the Broomfield Police Department, tells us that ultimately two male adults, two female adults and one female minor were arrested on the scene.
"They were gathering and obstructing the movement of the people inside by the grand staircase of the mall," he says. "They had been asked to leave by mall security. They didn't comply. Mall security asked us to direct them to leave and we ordered them to leave.... All of them, with the exception of these five, did."
He says that there were around seventy participants and that most left while the few who refused ultimately faced trespassing charges.
They have court dates scheduled for February 20. The four adults were handcuffed and taken to a detention center, he says, and the minor, whom McLean says is 17 years old, was taken to a substation in the mall to be released to a parent. They were all eventually released with summons. Kempsell says that violations of municipal ordinances can carry a fine up to a thousand dollars or jail time up to a year -- a rare maximum.
He explains that a mall is open to the public, but is still private property.
"So we can limit people coming in...[if] they are creating some kind of issue like blocking," he says. "Mall security started getting calls from store owners saying they were blocking access...to stores."
He says that they have freedom of speech to protest, but have to disburse if mall security asks them to do so.
"We are always dismayed...when mall authorities or police could've been more civil," says Glenn Morris, an associate professor at the University of Colorado Denver and a member of the Leadership Council of the American Indian Movement of Colorado.
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"This is a worldwide movement," says McLean. "I just want outside people to know that we weren't out of line. We weren't trespassing. Everything was done in good spirits."
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