Protesters, Police Clash for a Third Night in Denver

First seen in Denver Westword

On Saturday, May 30, thousands of people gathered at the State Capitol in downtown Denver for the third day in a row to protest the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Protesters demanded justice and an end to police brutality. They said they wanted change, but the event also saw an outpouring of the pain and anger sweeping America. The protest began peacefully, but clashes with police began several hours before the 8 p.m. curfew, which had just been announced at 1 p.m. that day.

Vandalism the previous night had caused extensive damage to government buildings and businesses along the 16th Street Mall and around the Denver Civic Center, and Mayor Michael Hancock implemented a citywide, two-night curfew in response.

Larissa Tardiff, an accountant born and raised in Denver, had organized the event via Facebook with Dee Carroll. On May 27, she’d stood with three other friends in front of the Capitol to demonstrate against Floyd’s death on May 25, and decided that night to organize a rally for May 30.

“This has been a horrible week for me. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep.  I had to pour my energy into something positive,” Tardiff said. But it grew beyond her wildest dream: She’s not a professional organizer, just a community member.

“It was the most powerful thing I have ever witnessed in my life,” Tardiff said. All races, backgrounds, ages and socioeconomic classes joined together for the afternoon protest. There were 200 volunteers wearing shirts printed with unicorns and the words “fuck racism,” and over 100 people donated supplies such as snacks and water. Medic teams and aid stations were also set up around the property.

Tardiff firmly asked protesters to be non-violent, but says she received backlash from some community members who disagreed with her. As a result, she and other organizers decided to end the protest at 5 p.m. She’d hoped to bring people together to use their words and create solutions, but she acknowledged that people display their feelings and protest differently.

“We witnessed a murder. We watched a man die, and people are upset, people are angry, people are very angry. We’re heartbroken. We need a change and the only way we can do that is coming together,” Tardiff said. “People are fed up.”

After the official demonstration and in the hours leading to the 8 p.m. curfew, riot police positioned themselves to clear the Capitol while protesters continued to chant for justice and confront officers.

A 25-year-old real estate agent, Neil Yarbrough, grabbed a megaphone and asked the crowd for a moment of silence. Hundreds of young people of all ethnicities, some wearing protective gear and others in jean shorts and tank tops, took a knee in front of the riot police in silent memory of George Floyd.

The clashes soon started, though, as demonstrators threw fireworks and water bottles at officers in riot gear. A little after 8 p.m., protesters pushed out of Civic Center into downtown Denver and Capitol Hill while police deployed tear gas and pepper spray.

Yarbrough led a group of almost 100 protesters past the governor’s mansion at East Eighth Avenue and Logan Street.  It was important to stay out after curfew to “protect our rights,” he said. “It’s a constitutional right to be able to protest, to be able to express yourself.”

Seven black Denver high-schoolers decided to stay out after curfew and support the community in its fight for justice. “Us being out here is important, because they don’t want to listen to us — so why would we listen to them?” one asked. It was the teens’ third night on the streets, and the group agreed that things were calmer than they had been the previous two nights.

Even so, police officers soon began to corner protesters on Colfax. Many demonstrators fled the wave of tear gas, but others remained to build barricades, throw rocks and clash with officers. One said that they were throwing objects at the police because protesters “tried peace. It didn’t work.”

Chris Hinds, the Denver District 10 councilman who was paralyzed from the waist down during Democratic National Convention protests in 2008, was on the street, witnessing the conflicts in his district.

“It’s kind of night and day,” he said of the day protests and the night protests. “There are people throwing rocks and trying to intentionally harm other people — well, isn’t that what we are trying to protest against?

“This is my home and it hurts me,” Hinds continued, while a man yelled at the protesters to stop destroying his neighborhood. As a white person, he said that he could not speak to the pain of the black community, but he did say that people don’t feel heard or represented by elected officials.

“So I can only guess that the people who are protesting this murder feel like they aren’t heard,” he explained. “Otherwise, why would they riot?”

A black man who’s a Denver native explained that his violence was an expression of his anger. “Everybody that’s out here has dealt with police brutality,” he said. “That leads to this.”

The protesters clashed with police past midnight. Dumpsters were set on fire and protesters fled through alleys while riot police continued to shoot pepper spray and tear gas.

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Eighty-three protesters were arrested after curfew, according to the Denver Police Department, and many were reported hurt during the demonstrations. Multiple officers were hurt by projectiles hurled at them, the DPD says, and three were hit by a car that skidded through a riot team on Colfax Avenue. One officer is still in the hospital, in good condition but with multiple fractures.

Kurt Barnes, a DPD spokesman, said that the department is concerned for the safety of the people voicing their opinions as well as its officers. “We do support the lawful assembly and the right to go out and show their support for the person who was killed in Minneapolis, but we also ask that the general public be peaceful and try to follow all traffic laws, remaining on the sidewalks,” he said.

Today, Tardiff was back at the Capitol, cleaning the area.

“If we’re assembling and we’re calm, listen to what we’re saying,” she said. “You don’t want us to judge you because of your uniform, please don’t judge us by our skin.”