For four days, Denver police gassed or fired pepper balls and foam munitions at hundreds of protesters, and while some pelted officers with rocks and told them to die, many others struck by the weapons were peaceful in their calls for an end to police violence.
Now, the two sides will have to work together — or face off again — in city council chambers and community town halls to address the mounting calls for systemic and cultural changes at the Denver Police Department.
The first days of anguished, impassioned protest in Denver over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police have maintained momentum for more than a week. Since the first days where vandalism and looting marred the message, protesters have shifted focus to killings by police in Colorado and have started talking about changes they say need to happen in the Mile High City. The demands vary in breadth and specificity and come from many groups, including longtime activists who say this moment is like none before in the city’s history.
“You can’t just link arms and take a knee and then continue the same abusive conduct that people are complaining about, or not address the trauma that was instilled in people those nights” that police used less-than-lethal weapons on the public, said Lisa Calderón, a longtime Denver community leader and chief of staff for Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca. “And that is what’s different. They didn’t just do it to us, people of color. They did it to a whole lot of white people who now understand our outrage at this kind of conduct.”
Denver’s leaders say they are listening. Police Chief Paul Pazen has promised accountability and change, but he hasn’t offered details on what he’d like to see. His boss, Murphy Robinson, public safety executive director, said if he were to rebuild the idea of policing, he would start by addressing some of its earliest roots in the United States: violently controlling enslaved people and capturing those who escaped.