The next few hours saw some peaceful demonstrations, but also clashes with police, property destruction and arrests.
Most of the broken windows that protesters left in their wake were at banks and other financial institutions along East Colfax Avenue. However, they also smashed the display windows of the historic Ogden Theatre, which were still showing the Spring 2020 concert schedule. And they broke the windows of a small dentist's office.
"It’s kind of time for people to stop whining about some broken glass and worry about the human lives that are being lost by the police state and the impending authoritarian state that the fascist-in-chief is trying to bring because [Trump is] obviously trying to organize a coup," says Asher Crowne, who attended the protest as a medic. (A college student in her thirties, she uses a pseudonym to protect her identity.)
"We’re out there fighting for self-determination, true freedom. We are tired of seeing our Black, Brown and Indigenous people eviscerated by law enforcement across the country," adds Crowne.
The protesters pulled from a mixed bag of far-left ideologies. There were self-identifying anarchists, like Crowne. One man waved a communist flag, and others displayed antifa symbols. One banner bore the words "Death to fascism and the liberalism that enables it." Protesters also chanted, "Fuck Biden, fuck Trump, DPD killed eight last month" and "Doesn't matter who's elected, fuck the system, we reject it."
While the event was billed as a rally against Trump — and protesters did burn a "Keep America Great" flag — the message was mixed. Trump, Biden, capitalism, liberalism and law enforcement all came in for criticism.
Unlike last spring's protests in the wake of the death of George Floyd, where the demands for social justice were clear, the words of these demonstrators were lost in images of broken windows and fires.
I’m at Colfax and Washington where protesters are marching. Police just fired some pepper balls at people moving dumpsters into the street. pic.twitter.com/gdLqIS6nIM— Conor McCormick-Cavanagh (@ConorMichael28) November 5, 2020
"I think that people should recognize that folks who are breaking windows are taking the only action they feel to be effective in response to the politicization of their lives and futures," says a protester who goes only by the name Gwen.
Did the November 4 action deliver that message? "If our message isn't getting across, it's due to people not listening with an open mind, not our failure to be clear," Gwen says. "I stand by the chants, and I stand by the banners. Those were our messages."
The Denver Police Department made eight arrests that night. Charges ranged from disobeying a lawful order to second-degree assault on an officer and possession of a prohibited weapon.
After the demonstrators made it to the Capitol, they turned east and headed along Colfax. It was at this point that Denver police officers in riot gear formed a line and began marching toward the protesters, many of whom then moved through a parking lot near the Natural Grocers at Washington Street.
A handful of protesters headed across Colfax to the District 6 police headquarters, where officers were stationed behind a fence. One person tossed a firework, and others pushed dumpsters toward the fence; the officers responded by firing pepper balls.
Protesters also set fire to a dumpster that they'd pushed into the middle of the street.
A group then continued east along Colfax, where much of the property destruction occurred. Not long after, a handful of police officers charged protesters toward the back of the group, tackling some and arresting them. Officers also deployed tear gas to disperse the crowd.
"The bulk of the march was a pretty good indication that Denver police need to let protests happen and not intervene with impact munitions," says Travis Harris, a 37-year-old U.S. Army veteran who watched the scene. "The reactions from some protesters didn't happen until the police started forming around the group and showing weapons."
Harris says that protesters should be out in the street, no matter who ends up winning the presidential race, because he's "against an inequitable duopoly" and doesn't believe the "election will have a material impact on most people struggling in the country."
The City of Denver had warned downtown businesses of potential trouble in the wake of the election; many buildings around the area had boarded up their windows before the voting deadline.