Here’s what happened when the public held a Denver City Council meeting without Denver City Council
Hint: No official votes, but a lot of demands for specific policy changes and sweeping cultural changes.
There was no approval of meeting minutes Monday evening on the steps of the City and County Building. There was no approval of anything except drastic government reform and, at times, an end to the city government structure as we know it.
Around 200 people gathered at city hall where many had planned to walk into City Council Chambers en masse, grab the mic, and filibuster in hopes of preventing Denver City Council, the legislative branch, from passing contracts sent from Mayor Michael Hancock in the executive branch.
But the prospect of protesters filling the pews for a second week in a row caused Council President Jolon Clark to cancel the meeting after discussing the matter with his colleagues. In an interview with Denverite, Clark blamed COVID-19 — a protest leader last week said the group would not practice social distancing while in chambers — and his unwillingness to enforce public health orders with law enforcement given the violent relationship between officers and protesters over the last month of unrest.
So members of the Afro Liberation Front, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, and others upset with systemic racism and police violence against people of color held their own meeting on the steps of city hall. It resembled a public hearing, but the three-minute limit was flexible. And instead of a microphone, they used a megaphone. City Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca was the only council member present.
Alongside calls to abolish the police altogether, protesters demanded an end to police patrols, the right for all city employees to collectively bargain like the Denver Police Department can, reparations for the hundreds of years of slavery that built America, a fair shot at cannabis money — “the new cash crop” — and an end to the sweeps of Denver’s unhoused residents.
Here’s what some of them had to say in their own words:
“I want to really note that the system is designed exactly how this is functioning and it is working 1,000 percent as it was designed to … You talk about the system, that it’s broken, it’s not working, it’s killing our Black and brown people. That’s literally the point. That is what this country was founded on … I definitely think that short-term revolution right now includes reform and working with council-people like Candi CdeBaca and amazing people who want to stand up for us, but as the people of Colorado and the people of Denver, we have no business talking about reform and preaching reform. That is not what we are doing here.”
“The new cash crop of America is not cotton and it’s not tobacco. It’s cannabis. Interestingly enough, it’s not legal in the areas where we used to pick cotton and grow tobacco. It is time that we get our harvest. It is time that America does the right thing. Even if you do not believe in the God, I thank God that Abraham Lincoln did, because he put on the money, ‘In God We Trust,’ and so every transaction is a broken contract. We are still hurting. We are still bleeding. We are still oppressed.”
“All that money that we’re asking for to defund the police? I want that money reallocated into the poor and Black communities.”
Kerri Joy Landell
“(The city council) made it very clear what their priorities are tonight. When they canceled city council because they didn’t want to see your faces, they made it very clear that what’s on their agenda isn’t actually urgent anyway … so we are demanding that every single one of them deny the contracts that come before them until they meet the demands of all the people.”
After about two hours of the resident-led public comment session, around 60 people joined the “night shift,” as protesters called it, to block traffic at intersections and share some of those messages with signs and chants.
This article was updated to correct the name of a group involved in the protests, which was the Party for Socialism and Liberation, no the Party for Socialism.