Update: The Denver Police Department has released a letter that defends the actions of officers who took blankets from homeless individuals, as shown in one of the videos that has gone viral. According to the letter, which the department posted to its Facebook page:
"The situation in the video occurred after individuals chose to illegally camp on the public right-of-way outside of the Denver City and County Building as a means of protest after being cited for unauthorized camping at a separate location. In both cases, officers on scene offered services and shelter to those individuals. After they refused the police officers' assistance, the individuals were advised that they were violating the law and needed to move. After several warnings, during an approximate four-hour period outside of the Denver City and County Building, three protesters chose to remain and were therefore cited. Officers collected items as evidence of the violations."
The full letter can be seen at the bottom of this article.
Update, Saturday 2 p.m.: Mayor Michael Hancock has ordered Denver Police officers to stop taking survival gear from homeless individuals — including blankets and tents — when enforcing the city's urban camping ban through April, 2017.
The full statement can be read here.
Two recently captured videos have been widely circulated around social-media networks showing Denver Police officers confiscating blankets from homeless people during bitterly cold weather conditions. The officers took the items as “evidence” of people violating the city's urban camping ban.
One video that was posted on November 29 by local business owner Kayvan Khalatbari had been viewed nearly 200,000 times as of Friday afternoon. Here is the video:
Khalatbari's video has become so widely shared on social media that it is being posted into the comment sections underneath almost every Facebook post – no matter what the subject matter – on pages belonging to Mayor Michael Hancock and City Council President Albus Brooks.
Khalatbari captured the video on an evening when homeless individuals who were kicked out of the Ballpark neighborhood by police sweeps decided to sleep on the sidewalk in front of the City and County Building as a protest.
In another video captured by local guerrilla journalism outfit Unicorn Riot (which Westword profiled in February), Denver police officers can be seen confiscating homeless individuals’ tents near Arapahoe Street and 27th Avenue on November 28 – within 24 hours of Khalatbari capturing his own video.
The city has maintained that it is dangerous and unhealthy for anyone to be sleeping outside and aims to have all homeless individuals check into overnight shelters.
On Friday afternoon, the ACLU of Colorado sent a letter to Hancock demanding that police officers stop taking homeless peoples' blankets. The letter, which references the two videos, suggests that the city immediately suspend enforcement of its urban camping ban and focus on alternative solutions.
That will be the focus of "Move Along to Where?" hosted by the Exdo Center on Thursday, December 15. Brooks will be present for the discussion.
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Below, you can read the ACLU's letter to the mayor in its entirety, followed by the Denver Police Department statement defending the blanket seizures.