Mayor Michael Hancock urged Denver residents to practice peaceful protesting but acknowledged the pain caused by the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis and whose death sparked protests in Denver and across the country.
“The phrase ‘I can’t breathe’ means something very different to my children, to the young people who are demonstrating,” Hancock, who is Black, said Friday while recalling a phrase associated with the death of Floyd, Eric Garner and other Black men who have died in police custody. “As an African-American man growing up in this nation, as a father, as an uncle, now as a grandfather, it is real to us.”
“We get it. It’s a great deal of pain,” Hancock said.
Following a peaceful protest that turned violent Thursday, police chief Paul Pazen said 13 people were arrested for things like burglary and criminal mischief, while three police officers were injured as they clashed with protesters near the state Capitol. One officer was hospitalized after being struck by a rock.
Hancock said he was proud of people who want to hold police accountable. The mayor himself called for cops involved in Floyd’s death to be charged. He noted that using violence to make a point shifts the focus away from calls for justice and accountability. One officer involved in Floyd’s death was arrested on Friday, according to CBS News.
“We need to encourage, however, peaceful demonstration,” Hancock said.
Pazen confirmed officers used tear gas to disperse the massive crowds, which included people Hancock called “agitators” who arrived with bats and threw rocks at police.
“Protest, like this one, we encourage to be done safely,” Pazen said. “However, last night, when the protest crossed over into destructive, dangerous and criminal behavior, that is no longer acceptable and it requires law enforcement intervention.”
Pazen said the rock-throwing prompted the police to begin using non-lethal measures like tear gas and pepper balls. It wasn’t immediately clear how many protesters and others in attendance suffered injuries. Pazen declined to say how many officers responded Thursday night, adding that “sharing that kind of information could be used against the community.”
Pazen commended officers, who he said demonstrated extreme restraint after “becoming targets” of people’s anger.
He said he was satisfied with the way police followed the department’s use-of-force policy. Hancock said officers would continue following the protocol for protest; another was planned for Friday.
“We each review each incident and each complaint,” Pazen said. “But I want to acknowledge the fact that this very strong and progressive use-of-force policy was created by the people of Denver in order to hold ourselves, to hold their police department, to a higher standard.”
Hancock said police did not arrive at the protest on Thursday wearing riot gear. They only changed after rocks and other projectiles were thrown at them, he said.
Police are still investigating after shots were fired near the Capitol around 5:30 p.m. No suspects have been identified in the shooting.