Mostly they were young teens and college kids, more than a thousand of them, demanding justice for two boys they say were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But the protesters weren't in Denver. They were in Kuwait City, the coastal capital of Kuwait, a fringe of land at the tip of the Persian Gulf. In late March they protested outside the Kuwait Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A week later they were in front of the Parliament Building, blocking the entrance and holding signs, many of them in English. The protests, which have included candlelit vigils, have been decidedly American in flavor.
And this is appropriate, since they are fighting for the rights of two Kuwaiti brothers, Raed and Hamad Mubarak, who are tangled up in the United States legal system.
The Mubarak brothers got into a fight last fall in Denver that ended, police say, when Raed tried to run over two Americans with his car. No one was seriously hurt, but Raed was charged with two counts of attempted first-degree murder and faces up to twenty years in prison for each count. His younger brother Hamad was convicted of attempted third-degree assault late last year, sentenced to thirty days probation and ordered deported to Kuwait.
It's an unusual set of circumstances, and it's raised passions in a country of two million people halfway around the world, where such stirrings are not looked upon favorably.
"These kind of protests are not allowed in Kuwait," says Ahmed Quraishi, an editor at Rai-Alaam newspaper in Kuwait City, which wrote about the case. The government would have already cracked down on the protestors, he says, but their age gives them a certain amount of license. There are even plans to organize a huge rock concert -- which are forbidden in public spaces in Kuwait -- in support of the Mubarak brothers.
"Now nobody can come and stop it," Quraishi says, "because people will shout that this is a humanitarian cause."
When sixteen-year-old Hamad Mubarak visited his older brother Raed in Denver last summer, he liked the city so much that he returned in the fall, moved in with Raed and began to study for his United States high school equivalency test so that he could enroll at the University of Denver. On October 17, he received his GED. That night, despite being underage, he headed to a LoDo nightspot to celebrate.
How the fight started is unclear. Raed's version goes like this: He picked his brother up near the corner of 15th and Market streets after midnight and they headed home. But while they were waiting at a red light on Lincoln Street at its intersection with 14th Avenue, two guys -- Michael Van Hofwegen and Andre McKnight -- emerged from a Toyota 4Runner stopped twenty feet behind them and came up on either side of Raed's silver VW Bug. Unprovoked, McKnight then started punching Raed through the open window.
They want to hijack the car, Raed thought. They want to rob us. As McKnight continued to throw punches at Raed, Raed turned in his seat and lashed back with his feet. McKnight pulled his shoes off.
Hamad, meanwhile, had gotten out of the car to reason with the attackers, but instead wound up being hit by either McKnight, Van Hofwegen or the latter's girlfriend, Marla Fulks (who happens to be a United States Marine.) The whole thing lasted no more than ninety seconds, Raed says. When the light turned green, Raed hit the gas and spun the car around so it was driving south, the wrong way down one-way Lincoln, the passenger door still open.
Raed says Van Hofwegen got back in his vehicle and drove off, but Hamad was lying facedown in the street, and McKnight and Fulks were still hitting him. The VW pulled alongside Hamad, and Raed yelled at his brother, "Get in! Get in!" McKnight and Fulks withdrew and Hamad crawled inside the car.
"I can't breathe, I can't breathe," Hamad gasped. "They hit me with the car. Take me to the hospital." Hamad's yellow shirt was red with blood. He reached for his cell phone, but it was lost underneath the seat. The Bug got only as far as Broadway and Colfax Avenue, on the other side of Civic Center, before a Denver police cruiser pulled them over.
Michael Van Hofwegen and Andre McKnight's story is a little different. Although neither man returned phone calls from Westword, their version is laid out in the testimony they gave during Raed Mubarak's preliminary hearing held December 9 of last year.
Van Hofwegen says he was driving his Toyota 4Runner on Lincoln at about Eighth or Ninth Avenue, when the Mubaraks' silver Bug slowly started to creep into his lane. It appeared to Van Hofwegen that Mubarak wasn't paying attention, but when he tried to get away from the erratic vehicle, Mubarak pulled around him on his left, cut in front of him and slammed the brakes. "As soon as I came to a complete stop, the driver and passenger jumped out of their car. The driver opened my door, it wasn't locked, and said, you know, 'Don't "f" with me. I'm going to kick the shit out of you.'"