The fallout from the ugly clash between cops and a few dozen shit-stirrers outside Denver Police Department headquarters at 1331 Cherokee Street late on Saturday, August 22, has been multi-faceted and unusual, with the DPD remaining mostly silent on social media even as peaceful protesters have tried to warn those who engaged in violence and vandalism that they're harming the very movement they're presumably championing.
Take this response from a commentator on the Reddit "Denver Protests" section: "You’re playing right into their hand. Destroying businesses and setting things on fire during a dangerous fire season is not chaotic good. It’s exactly what the conservative media wants. Smashing windows of a Quiznos does absolutely nothing to support the cause. All it does is add fuel to the fire. Stop giving them talking points and clips to cycle. All you’re doing is proving their point."
There's plenty of evidence to support this argument. In the days before the dust-up, Steffan Tubbs of KNUS radio shared an all-caps graphic linked to the Reddit page of a user dubbed polly_sprutality. The flier hyped the gathering at Denver Police HQ and referenced Denver City Council member Candi CdeBaca's proposal to replace the DPD with a so-called peace force, which was rejected by the full council at its August 17 meeting. It reads:
GIVE EM HELL
BRING YOUR GEAR
OUR CITY HAS FAILED
JARED POLIS, MICHAEL HANCOCK, MURPHY ROBINSON, AMANDA SANDOVAL, KEVIN FLYNN, JOLON CLARK, DEBBIE ORTEGA, STACIE GILMORE, KENDRA BLACK, ROBIN KNIECH, AMANDA SAWYER, PAUL KASHMANN
HAVE REFUSED TO ADDRESS OUR DEMANDS TO ABOLISH THE DPD
CITY COUNCIL JUST REFUSED A BILL TO ALLOW DENVER RESIDENTS TO VOTE TO REPLACE THE POLICE WITH A PEACE FORCE
A peaceful protest took place outside the State Capitol earlier on August 22, and there's no indication those taking part in that event headed to the Cherokee station in the evening, when things got ugly fast. The face-off ultimately resulted in a dozen arrests, plus one extra citation and plenty of residual damage to a downtown Quiznos, as well as a nearby liquor store. At least one tree was set ablaze, too. Yet the DPD didn't tweet updates about its actions before or afterward — a decision that suggests concern that any official police account sent into the ether could backfire on authorities.
Mayor Michael Hancock wasn't nearly as reticent. On Sunday, August 23, he tweeted, "I am encouraging every elected official in our city — legislators, city council, school board and our clergy and civic leaders — to make clear in statements today that anarchy and vandalism dressed up as a protest will not be tolerated in Denver."
In subsequent tweets, Hancock added: "What happened in Denver and across many other cities last night was not protest in the tradition of Martin Luther King, Jr. or John Lewis, and it does not reflect who we are as a community. ... Working for change in our democracy comes from peaceful protest and the ballot box. Inciting violence and vandalism is not about making change, it is about anarchy, chaos and mindless destruction. We will not tolerate it in the @CityofDenver."
Hancock reiterated these themes during an August 23 press conference:
Councilwoman CdeBaca hasn't shared her thoughts on Twitter thus far, but Governor Jared Polis has. Around the same time that Hancock first weighed in, Polis tweeted, "Just as we all condemn inexcusable acts of terror against a family-owned restaurant, acts of criminal terrorism are just as wrong against corporate chains and public buildings. An attack against any of our lives and property is an attack against all of our lives and property."
Around half an hour later, Polis added, "Tomorrow is exactly one year since the tragic death of Elijah McClain. Together we not only remember and celebrate the life of #ElijahMcClain, but redouble our efforts for justice and an end to systemic racism in his name."
A nice thought, but an inaccurate one. August 24 marks a year since McClain was attacked by Aurora Police officers, but he remained on life support until his official death on August 30. But there's no doubt that what happened in Denver on August 22 violated his personal ethic of peacefulness and non-violence. Indeed, avoiding such a mixed message was one reason his mother, Sheneen McClain, canceled an August 23 event dubbed "Elijah's Walk Home."
Last week, attorney Mari Newman, who represents the family in a lawsuit over McClain's death and filed a separate complaint related to a violin tribute to the 23-year-old that was broken up by officers using chemicals, explained that "the family's initial intention was to have an intimate moment of healing," but "the event took on a life of its own," with the Aurora Police Department estimating potential attendance at 2,500. "Once it became something of a three-ring circus, Elijah's mother realized the last thing she wanted in the world was to be the main attraction, when she's simply a grieving mom who wants to be with her family." A lower-key memorial was staged instead.
As for the Reddit page that apparently promoted the August 22 confrontation with Denver cops, the aforementioned poster noted: "Reading through this sub has gotten pretty scary. It’s clear there are posters who are just here to incite the violence and encourage destruction because they know it’ll help their side. Please take some time to consider whether these people truly care about the causes you’re trying to fight for. Phrases like 'liberal bullshit' should be alarming, but instead they’re justified?"
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.