A public hearing meant to last 30 minutes flowed late into the evening Monday as scores of protesters took over Denver City Council Chambers to demand drastic police reform and an end to systemic racism.
Just before the city council’s weekly legislative meeting was set to begin at 5:30 p.m., a crowd rushed the chambers and chanted “Defund DPD.” The group, which included members of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, demanded control of the microphone.
Council President Jolon Clark and his colleagues acquiesced, giving them free rein and throwing out the three-minute limit and decorum rules.
For two-and-a-half hours, residents demanded — often with brimming anger — a shift away from the status quo. Demands ranged from redirecting taxpayer money away from law enforcement and toward behavioral health services to abolishing the police department altogether.
“The people have stood up. The table is flipping. And I want you all to understand right now you will be held responsible,” Candace Bailey, who has worked with children in the criminal justice system, told council members. “You each have blood on your hands.”
Protesters repeatedly named Black and Latinx people killed by officers and deputies with the Denver Police Department and Denver Sheriff Department, including Michael Marshall, William DeBose, Marvin Booker, Jessica Hernandez, Paul Childs and Ryan Ronquillo.
Ivette Mendez, sister to 16-year-old Alexis Mendez-Perez who was shot and killed by off-duty Department of Corrections worker Desmond Manning while he ran through the man’s backyard, said she wanted justice for her brother.
“They got the guy who shot my brother and he’s dead,” Mendez said. “What more evidence do they need? I also just want to be my brother’s voice. I just want justice for my little brother.”
Rosie DuPree, who grew up in the era of Paul Childs, a teenager killed by a Denver police officer in 2003, said that was the year she learned that “police kill children, too.”
“I am a child of this city. I pay taxes in this city,” DuPree said. “I’m a business owner in this city and we need more eyes on who makes the decisions, on who trains the people who interact with our children.”
At times, frustrated residents cursed at council members and trolled them. Council members listened without talking back. Some protesters blamed the legislators for being complicit, while others acknowledged that the legislative branch has relatively little power compared to the mayor’s office.
At about 8:15 p.m., as the crowd began to disperse, Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca pleaded with the protesters to stay and watch the much less exciting legislative meeting and see how the government sausage gets made. Most obliged.