Denver, Colorado. January 29, 2011.
We ain’t takin this no mo’!
In a third round of street demonstrations against police terror in the Denver metro area in the last six months, hundreds took to the streets of downtown Denver on the night of January 29th. A crowd that started as 150 and at times fluctuated to almost twice that number stormed the 16th Street Mall, a commercial epicenter of downtown Denver in a display of rage that hasn’t been seen in Denver in quite some time.
The actions come on the heels of an endless series of police misconduct incidents, including the killing of a prisoner named Marvin Booker by Denver County Sheriffs at the Van Cise-Simonet Detention Center in July 2010. A laundry list of beatings, rapes, child pornography and drug charges has marked police activity in the metro area. Lawsuit after lawsuit has been filed, with the city of Denver paying out millions of dollars over the last several years.
The crowd gathered at the Denver Skatepark at 19th and Little Raven Streets at 6pm. Because of its proximity to downtown and the locations of several high profile police misconduct cases, the Skatepark has been the launching site of two of the three street actions that have happened since the murder of Marvin.
The crowd assembled for several short speeches, and stormed off into the night, filling the streets. Banners accompanying the crowd included messages such as “Marvin Booker was murdered” and “6 months later, we have not forgotten”. Several more pointed banners also illustrated the anger seething within the crowd. One banner displayed a picture of a Glock pistol with the words “They have left us no other option” printed below the weapon. Another depicted twin unicorns impaling stereotypical renderings of a businessman and a police officer.
As the crowd moved toward downtown, united chants filled the air: “From Denver to Greece, Fuck the Police!”; “Cops, Pigs, Murderers!”; and “Oink, oink, bang, bang, every day the same old thang” were among the crowd’s favorites. Marvin Booker’s name was also chanted excitedly and for long periods of time, to remind the cops and other passerby of one of the many victims at the hands of Denver metro law enforcement agencies.
The march passed over the pedestrian bridge into the 16th Street Mall district, taking both lanes of the street, shutting down all bus traffic on the mall. As with the demonstration on October 22nd, hundreds of stickers of Marvin’s face were placed on storefronts, street poles, and other targets.
Although no permit existed, police worked to direct traffic away from the march, and kept their distance while the march worked its way toward the capitol and the detention center.
After an unexpected turn toward the jail, the march took over Colfax Ave, one of the busiest streets in Denver, blocking all traffic on the street. Several blocks later, and the march was at the steps of the Van Cise-Simonet Detention Center, the new jail where Marvin was murdered by guards just six months ago, and where so many other victims of police terror end up on a daily basis.
The crowd surged toward the doors of the center, covering the large glass entrance with stickers. The whole entrance shook as marchers pounded and kicked on the doors and windows, while the crowd loudly screamed Marvin’s name. A deputy that came out to try to intimidate the crowd found himself momentarily pinned in between the frame and the door he attempted to exit from. After the door being slammed on his arm several times, he retreated back inside the building. The crowd had demonstrated its militancy and willingness to engage the deputies. No other jail guards attempted to confront the crowd.
The march proceeded to 14th Ave, and took a turn back toward downtown. At this point, construction barrels and security fencing from a large event that had taken place earlier in Civic Center Park were pulled into the street behind the marchers. A series of low level barricades were erected.
The march turned yet again, this time onto Broadway, another of the busiest streets in Denver. The march proceeded the wrong way down the one way street, and police frantically tried to clear traffic out of the path of the march.
As the crowd passed through the intersection of Colfax and Broadway, the police cars stationed there became targets for stickers and graffiti. Officers hurried out of their cars to try to arrest demonstrators. Their attempts failed, and the crowd continued back toward the 16th Street Mall.
By the time the crowd reached the mall, the march had been in control of the streets for well over an hour. A sense of power and rage seemed to be emanating from the crowd. The second pass through downtown would not be as peaceful as the first.
Trash cans, benches, chairs, and anything else not bolted down filled the streets behind the marchers. Christmas decorations, pay phones, and displays were destroyed by the crowd. Even more trashcans and chairs were thrown at bank windows, though few, if any of the windows seemed to break.
Anti-cop graffiti filled the walls and windows of businesses as the crowd continued to work its way back up the 16th Street Mall. The crowd wanted to make sure that people would not forget this night. The city and the police would not be able to ignore the anger and rage seething from this march.
Somewhere near Champa and 16th Street, a decision was made to disperse, as riot police were finally mobilizing nearby. With a quick group countdown, the marchers dispersed themselves into the night.
One arrest was confirmed during the dispersal, though the person arrested was later released without charges after the police failed to identify them in any photos they had taken of the acts of property destruction.
Much has been already noted about the mood of those in attendance, and the actions they took. But what of those that took the streets?
Much like the crowds that assembled in October, the participants in the march were mostly youth. Many were homeless and poor street kids who are frequently targeted by police downtown. Anarchists and other radicals were much better represented in this march than the previous October action. However, many familiar faces from the various scenes that make up the Denver anarchist movement were yet again missing. More mainstream activists and progressives were also in attendance, but yet again, constituted a very small minority. Probably the biggest difference from October was that local graf crews and hiphop heads were well represented at this march.
Overall, the crowd was widely diverse, but was overwhelmingly comprised of poor or working class youth. Just as in October, this factor was one of the largest reasons that the march was as militant as it was.
In the several days that have passed since the march, very little media coverage has been aired of the events of January 29. Two small snippets appeared on the local ABC and FOX affiliate news channels. A photo-montage of the police response that took place at the end of the march appeared in the local entertainment weekly, the Westword. But these few examples represent all of the local mainstream coverage of the event. Several photo essays and videos have been released from participants or independent and movement journalists. These reports, as has become typical, are the best representations of the events of the night.
Even as the media and the police try to black out the events that transpired, the news has reached thousands of residents in Denver already. Of course, the visible reminders of the march still litter parts of downtown days later, spurring conversations and storytelling about the nighttime melee.
The Next Act
The future looks promising for a movement that is both anti-cop and anti-authoritarian to continue to strengthen in the Denver area. With each successive action organized by radicals in response to the growing police terror in our communities there has been an escalation of tactics. The participation level has also increased, but not merely in the area of numbers, but in the amount of participation a single person puts into each action. Instead of a march with just several people controlling all the messaging, and the tactical decisions, the vast majority of the crowd became an active part in shaping the demonstration. Whether through tagging, erecting barricades, confronting cops, constructing banners, or controlling the chants, the march participants nearly all left behind the role of spectator by engaging the in the actions of the night.
The reign of police terror does not seem poised to cease any time soon, and neither does the anger rising from our communities. As one march participant pointed out our mission is to “create crisis and break the peace.” The actions of January 29th definitely succeeded.
The police may still attempt to take actions against the participants, but as of yet we know of no charges having been filed against anyone involved in the march. This lack of immediate repression has also done much to embolden the participants of the march.
The next few months could be tumultuous indeed for the city of Denver. Even if elected officials fire a few of the officers involved with the endless list of misconduct cases, it doesn’t appear that the thirst for vengeance will be quenched.
People in Denver are starting to realize that they can become powerful. That can only spell trouble for the people that attempt to steal that power.
There are certainly challenges that face this movement. Questions of tactical efficacy need to be posed, especially as several march participants were almost hurt by others within the march wildly throwing objects. The general tactical decisions of the group seemed sound, but the relative inexperience of the participants could have injured fellow comrades.
Could the crowd have defended itself if directly attacked by the police? In case of mass arrest, were networks strong enough to deal with dozens of arrests, bail scenarios, and courtdates? How easily can various elements of the participants be turned against each other? Does solidarity only exist between social groupings during these marches, or is solidarity an everyday experience?
Education and training will certainly be needed, as well as much more practice in the streets. Most of these questions can only be answered if the needs themselves arise. Others, however, need to start to be answered now, before the situations they reference become reality.
January 29th was just the latest chapter!
The rest of the story is unwritten!
In solidarity and rage!
Queen City Antifa
January 31, 2011