Anti-Police Violence Protest Rocks Downtown Denver

Protesters gathered at the Colorado Capitol for the Justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Sean Reed & Others rally.
Protesters gathered at the Colorado Capitol for the Justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Sean Reed & Others rally. Evan Semon Photography
Hundreds of people headed to the State Capitol late yesterday afternoon for a 5 p.m. rally to protest the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died on May 25 after being held down and arrested by Minneapolis police officers, one of whom kept his knee on George's neck as George said, "I can't breathe."

But what was intended as a peaceful protest devolved into a chaotic demonstration marked by violence, with Denver police resorting to riot-control techniques.

"Tonight, the pain and rage brought on by the death of yet another black man in America at the hands of law enforcement came to a boiling point in Denver,” said Leslie Herod, a state representative from Denver who'd issued an early alert about gunshots in the area.

"We just got shot at. Capitol," Herod tweeted at 5:38 p.m.

About an hour later, the Denver Police Department tweeted that officers were "on scene at W Colfax Ave and W 15 st on shots fired in the area of the Capital. This is an ongoing investigation and the motive is unknown. No reports of injuries."

By then, the protest, which lasted late into the night, had spread out into the blocks around the Capitol, including Capitol Hill and the area behind Union Station, occasionally blocking major thoroughfares like Colfax Avenue, Broadway, Lincoln and even I-25.

And as some demonstrators shouted anti-police slurs and even broke windows of cop cars, there were direct confrontations between protesters and police officers.

Officers wearing riot gear hurled chemical gas canisters and fired non-lethal pepper-spray projectiles from paintball guns to disperse protesters. For every few chemical gas canisters that were chucked by police, at least one was thrown back toward them.

At one point, demonstrators blocked an SUV that was turning onto Broadway from Colfax. As a man jumped on the front of the car, the driver kept going and the man got off, but the driver veered toward him, striking him and then accelerating. The incident was captured on camera. "This gut-wrenching video is eerily reminiscent of James Alex Fields, the man who murdered Heather Heyer in Charlottesville in 2017," Julie Gonzales, a state senator from Denver, wrote on Twitter.

But unlike that tragedy, in which a driver killed a protester, the man hit by the car in Denver was upright at the end of the video.

Like the initial gunshots that led to so much chaos and confusion, the DPD is investigating this incident. "We would ask that the victim in that case come forward to file a report. Right now we don't have a victim in this case. It's still open, but we do need the victim's cooperation," says Kurt Barnes, a DPD spokesman.

Governor Jared Polis also took to social media to say that he "was absolutely shocked by video evidence of a motorist attempting to run over a protester."

click to enlarge Protesters headed off in many directions from the Capitol, including 20th and Chestnut. - CLEO MIRZA
Protesters headed off in many directions from the Capitol, including 20th and Chestnut.
Cleo Mirza
And just after 10 p.m., Mayor Michael Hancock wrote on Facebook that, while he was "outraged at the senseless death of George Floyd in Minneapolis...the men and women of the Denver Police Department are not the enemy."

Despite tensions running high in Denver on the night of May 28, the protests didn't come close to the intense level of those in Minneapolis, where demonstrators set fire to a police precinct and officers arrested a CNN team.

Another protest is scheduled for the Capitol today at noon.
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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.