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Videos: First Nations calls FlatIron Crossing protest a flash mob, cops disagree

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Last week, we reported that a flash-mob protest at FlatIron Crossing in Broomfield quickly turned confrontational, resulting in five arrests. Organizers of the First Nations protest, which plans another rally tonight, are questioning why cops intervened, given that the mall has been the site of many peaceful flash mobs in the past; see videos below. Police, however, say this scenario was different -- and was not a flash mob.

"It's a flash mob. It's gonna be in and out in fifteen minutes," says Glenn Morris, an associate professor at the University of Colorado Denver and a member of the Leadership Council of the American Indian Movement of Colorado. "They know that there's been multiple flash mobs there in the past. It raises the question of whether or not their protocols were racially motivated?"

Morris has been leading Denver protests in support of a Canadian hunger striker trying to facilitate a meeting between the government and First Nations leaders. The efforts are part of a national effort called Idle No More. He was not at the Broomfield protest, but he says he and others are concerned that the police chose to make arrests when peaceful flash mobs have gone on without incident at the same location.

Here's one video he sent our way from December 9, 2010. More are featured below.

"It would be very disturbing if we find that there's some kind of racially motivated protocol," Morris says of the American Indian protest last week.

For comparison, here's video from the event last week, which we posted with our write-up on the arrests:

Occupy Denver has an Idle No More solidarity event scheduled tonight at the Capitol from 6-7 p.m.

Rick Kempsell, a public information officer with the Broomfield Police Department, defends the arrests and says there is a fundamental difference between the flash mobs that have happened in the mall in the past and the protest that took place last week.

"I would not consider what happened last week being a flash mob," he says. "They are allowed to protest, but they cannot disrupt activity, they cannot disrupt passage.... The issue we were dealing with was the protest was a disruption to the daily operation of the mall."

He says that in this case, mall security asked the protesters to disperse and some refused -- at which point the former called Broomfield Police officers, who also asked the participants to disperse. Those that refused were eventually arrested, he says.

"We are dealing with criminal conduct," he says.

Continue for more of the Broomfield Police Department's response to the protesters' accusations. We sent Kempsell the flash mob video above and three others, on view below, from the last two years, all sent our way by Morris. Kempsell says it's clear the nature of the event is quite different.

"I would make the distinction between what I see as a flash mob...and a protest," he says. The spontaneous dancing in the videos is "fun and entertaining and then it was over.... [It's a] form of entertainment, versus a protest."

He says people do have a right to protest in the space, which is open to the public, but if storeowners and mall management on the private property ask protesters to stop, they must comply.

"We don't want to limit one's freedom of speech," Kempsell says. "What we are responding to is the criminal element."

He notes that in those past flash mobs, police were never called onto the scene.

But Tessa McLean, one of the protesters on site, tells us that the police were at the mall demanding they stop almost as soon as the protest began, noting that they didn't even make it through one song.

"I really don't feel like it was a protest, what we did at the mall," she says. "We had the intention of dispersing after we got in maybe two songs.... We weren't there to block anyone's way from the stores."

She says those who were arrested plan to bring up these past flash mobs in court.

McLean adds, "I know as a group, we felt singled out, because we are people of color."

Kempsell says, "There was absolutely no...racial concern.... It was their actions that amounted to criminal conduct."

Continue for videos of past flash mobs at that mall. Here's one from September 25, 2011.

And another from December 18, 2011.

And one more from February 4, 2012.

Here's video from an Idle No More protest at the Cherry Creek mall last month, in which there were no arrests.

More from our Colorado Crimes archive: "Marijuana: Boulder's Dandelion Dispensary reopens after bizarre bear-mace robbery"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.

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