Denver Protests Remain Peaceful Through the Day, With Late-Night Tension

Protesters gathered at the Capitol for a sixth consecutive day.
Protesters gathered at the Capitol for a sixth consecutive day. Conor McCormick-Cavanagh
For the fifth day in a row, a massive group gathered in downtown Denver at a rally demanding justice for George Floyd, who died at the hands of Minneapolis police on May 25. The June 1 protests were largely peaceful, as many demonstrators strove to keep the focus on police brutality and the death of black men and women at the hands of law enforcement.

A little before midnight, however, Denver police officers moved in to disperse the few hundred remaining demonstrators at the Capitol, resulting in another round of clashes.

Earlier that day, protesters had marched peacefully from the Capitol along the 16th Street Mall. Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen had even joined the group, linking arms with demonstrators during the march, which eventually looped back to the Capitol for a packed program of speeches, slam poetry and chants.

"We are rebelling because we're sick and tired," Torrence Brown-Smith, 26, said to the crowd. "I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired."

The speeches wrapped up at 8 p.m., an hour before the Denver curfew, now set for 9 p.m.  As participants left the Capitol, they stopped at an intersection on Broadway, where they sat for nine minutes to pay tribute to Floyd, who'd been pinned by an officer's knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes. That officer has been arrested for Floyd's murder.

At around 9:20 p.m., as protesters returned to the Capitol, organizers led another moment of silence. Neil Yarborough, one of the protest leaders, announced that he had seen a tweet indicating that Pazen was asking officers to stand down and not disperse protesters who were simply violating curfew, garnering cheers from the crowd.

Not long after that announcement, Yarborough asked those present to head home. "I feel like the whole world heard us," he said, as most of the protesters did just that. "The police department heard us. This is almost perfect, man. This is like something out of a movie scene. And I want it to stay beautiful."

The few hundred protesters who stuck around continued demonstrating in a largely peaceful action; some lay on the ground with their hands behind their backs. At one point, a man spray-painting the Capitol steps was told off by those around him and chased away.

At around 11:20 p.m., however, a man sitting on the roof of a white Jeep started launching Roman candle fireworks at the Capitol. Some protesters swarmed around the car to get him to stop, but he continued; others encouraged his action. From that point on, tensions escalated.

As the clock inched toward midnight, law enforcement vehicles and officers dressed in riot gear began to encircle the protesters on Lincoln Street in front of the Capitol. Officers deployed tear gas and shot pepper-spray balls at protesters until they dispersed, in what's becoming a familiar scene during the last hours of these demonstrations.

Protests are planned for the next several days. And Denver's 9 p.m. curfew will remain in place for at least the next three nights. 
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.

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