Denver Protests Call Into Question Tactics Used By Police and Demonstrators

On Wednesday, Nov. 4, anarchist protesters, brought together by a post on the Colorado Springs Anti-Fascists’ Twitter account, gathered at Cheeseman Park in Denver, Colorado to advocate for total police and government abolition. 

Making an appearance ourselves to support the Black Lives Matter and Count the Vote movements, we were unprepared for what was to take place.

Protesters carried umbrellas to protect themselves and others from the press and the police. (Amelia Chapman)

The majority of the protesters were unrecognizable to protect their identities from the press and the police. All black seemed to be the dress code with many wearing hats (sometimes helmets) and goggles to shield themselves not only from the anticipated tear gas and rubber bullets but also from cameras. Some carried dumpster lids, which later doubled as drums to draw the attention of passersby and shields to protect themselves. Others carried umbrellas also intended to be used as shields, but many times during the march they were used to block the press’ cameras to protect everyone’s identities.

A pamphlet entitled “How to Protest in a Police State: An Anarchist Guide to Staying Safe in the Streets,” informed us on the proper protest etiquette. (Amelia Chapman)

As the only ones wearing brightly colored clothing, we were informed by a pamphlet entitled How to Protest in a Police State: An Anarchist Guide to Staying Safe in the Streets, that we were wearing Debloc—unidentifiable brightly colored clothing for leaving the action safely—at the wrong time. Now was the time for black bloc.

After about an hour of waiting at the park, we marched towards the Capitol building. Many citizens came out onto their porches to observe as we passed by. The protestors began chanting “Out of your homes and into the streets”  to rally the observers to the cause, but few were inclined to do so. 

Other chants that more reflected the outrage behind the movement included:

“Doesn’t matter who’s elected, f**k the system we reject it.”

“DPD killed eight last month. F**k Biden. F**k Trump.”

“No borders, no walls, no USA at all.”

At the first intersection, the group paused and held up traffic—something that would happen frequently throughout the march. Multiple flags, particularly a Trump flag and a Blue Lives Matter flag, were burned to show disgust with the current political and policing systems. 

Protesters burned Trump and Blue Live Matter flags during the demonstration. (Amelia Chapman)

Flags that were proudly carried by the protestors included communist flags—in support of those ideologies—and completely black flags to symbolize anarchy. Small acts of vandalism occurred, such as spray painting (usually depicting the anarchist symbol and phrases such as“F**k Biden/Trump” or “AmeriKKKa”) and the throwing of balloons filled with paint. However, it was not until later in the evening that the real rioting broke out.

The communist flag was a prominent symbol of the event. (Amelia Chapman)

Shocked by the property destruction, we were unsure whether we should continue with the march. However, at this point, the police had surrounded the area and we felt safer in the group than breaking off on our own.  We continued to march with the protest for a little over 1.5 miles until we could feel the tension rising between the police and protesters, and left through a side street that had not been blockaded.

After we had left, the protesters reached an intersection that had been blocked off by three riot trucks and the march was brought to a halt. The riot trucks were accompanied by riot lines of police officers armed with pepper bombs, tear gas and automatic weapons. The crowd made an escape through an alleyway and shortly after were cornered again.

Police announced that if the protesters did not immediately disperse, they reserved the right to use force to break up the protest. This prompted rioting: windows that had not been boarded up were broken, those that had been became plastered in spray paint. A dumpster was set on fire and fireworks were set off within the crowd.

The police stayed true to their word and met this rioting with brute force: pepper bombs were thrown at protestors cornered in an alley, tear gas was fired and some claim to have heard, although unconfirmed, rubber bullets shot into the crowd. 

Eight protesters were arrested at the end of the event, but prior to the arrests police had been using tactics designed for a mass arrest. By creating riot lines to herd protesters and blocking side streets, they were able to prevent people from escaping the scene. If protesters decided to disperse it would have been difficult to leave the area safely (and without arrest) due to the concentration of police blocking the way as well as officers waiting on surrounding streets. These tactics failed to result in a mass arrest, but protestors informed us that they had to sneak around police blockades to escape the scene. 

It is difficult to say whether the protest initially set out with the intent to become a riot, whether the rioting led police force or police force led to rioting; there are eyewitness accounts saying both. But, beginning in June, Black Lives Matter protests across the country have been intercepted by police leading to many arrests and injuries. Police have been using harsh and forceful tactics to break up protests which may have prompted people to show up with protective and defensive equipment. Police could have taken this the wrong way, believing demonstrators were there to incite a riot, or, when given the opportunity to begin rioting, protesters felt prepared to do so. 

Rioting can shine an unhealthy light on the Black Lives Matter movement and deter the adoption of its philosophies. Both sides of the issue take offense to its effects and are impacted negatively by its occurrence. The cycle of rioting, leading to more funding and defensive resources given to the police which leads to more anger and unrest among demonstrators, cannot be helpful to the overall movement of defunding the police and Black Lives Matter.