Clearly out of patience after days of protests that have grown violent and caused extensive private and public property destruction downtown, an angry Mayor Michael Hancock on Saturday clamped an 8 p.m. curfew on the city for the first time in decades.
Gov. Jared Polis has called in the state’s National Guard to help patrol downtown where protests were ongoing Saturday. Around 100 members are slated to be in the city at nine different sites.
“What happened was reckless, inexcusable and unacceptable,” Hancock said, noting this is the first weekend restaurants were reopened due to the pandemic. “People are hurting … We understand that. But today, unfortunately, because of the actions of a few, we have to pause the little steps we’ve taken to send a message these actions won’t be tolerated.”
Thousands of people have taken to the streets over the last three days in Denver and cities across the country to protest the death of George Floyd, a Minneapolis Black man who was arrested and killed last week at the hands of police.
One Minnesota officer has been charged with murder in the Floyd case — but that did little to bring calm to riots across the country raging all weekend.
Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen sharply rebuked Floyd’s killing on Friday and compared cops to protesters.
Pazen called it a shame that a few bad police officers can tarnish an entire profession — much like a few bad protesters can ruin a powerful message.
“The vile actions of four officers in Minneapolis have caused great harm in this profession,” he said, pleading for calm in the city. “Help us keep the community safe. Don’t let the individual agitators hijack your message. Don’t let them scar this beautiful city.”
While fewer than 35 people have been arrested in two days, Denver officials say they have confiscated more than a dozen weapons from people attending the marches — including assault rifles, knives, fireworks.
Officers say those weapons may have been intended to hurt police or others peacefully protesting.
“This is nearly as inexcusable as the horrific killing itself,” Pazen said. “Crowbars are not part of a peaceful protest. Baseball bats are not part of a peaceful protest. And certainly bringing handguns, assault weapons and ammunition are not part of a peaceful protest.”
Those arrested were for serious crimes, Pazen said, including arson and criminal menacing with a deadly weapon.
He declined to discuss tactics, but defended the department’s handling of the protests so far, noting officers were using non-lethal pepper rounds and tear gas to break up rioting when necessary.
City officials were boarding up public buildings across downtown while the mayor was speaking to reporters in front of city hall on Saturday. Officials were tallying damage done to both city and private properties — but one spokesman noted 90 windows at city hall were bashed in.
Despite the curfew, officials anticipated another night of turmoil and violence across the city.
On Saturday, state and city buildings were strewn with graffiti or had windows bashed in, from the Denver Public Library to the Colorado Supreme Court building. Up and down the 16th Street Mall, businesses reporting looting and graffiti, officials said.
Hancock seemed particularly angry about the timing of Saturday’s imposed curfew, which will go from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. and end on Monday. This weekend was the first time restaurants were able to legally reopen because of the pandemic. He said he was up all night struggling with what to do.
He said the violence was led by a few people “who could care less about the city.”
Hancock has been chatting with mayors across the country on how to handle the violence that has erupted in cities across the country. He said he’s talked to faith leaders and civil rights groups in Denver this weekend.
Gov. Polis was mostly quiet throughout the weekend. He issued a statement that he supported Hancock in his efforts to protect Denver by activating Guardsmen.
“We are all filled with grief about the unjust murder of George Floyd and I stand ready to join hands with those hurting today as we peacefully work for justice,” Polis said in the statement. “Today is a new day and it is my hope … that any future demonstrations remain peaceful.”
Polis’ spokesman Conor Cahill said the governor has been in “close communication” with Hancock as well as members of the Black Legislative Caucus throughout the weekend.
He said through Cahill on Saturday that he had a message for those protesting peacefully: “I see you, and I am listening.”