Night of violence was ‘not a protest,’ city leaders say. ‘It was anarchy.’

Fifty to 75 people gathered outside police headquarters Saturday night, smashing windows of the headquarters and a nearby Quizno’s.
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Murphy Robinson, executive director of the Denver Department of Public Safety, speaks during the opening of a new mass testing facility for COVID-19 at the Pepsi Center. May 21, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The people who broke windows, set fires and injured a police officer Saturday night in downtown Denver were not protesters practicing their First Amendment rights, city leaders said.

"It was anarchy," Murphy Robinson, executive director of the Department of Public Safety, said at a press conference Sunday afternoon. "The anarchists that showed up last night brought weapons to the table. They had guns. They brought explosives, axes, machetes, and had one intent purpose. And that was to harm our officers that were there to serve in the line of duty, to protect our city."

A group of 50 to 75 people gathered outside of police headquarters Saturday evening to call for abolition of the department, police say. Those gathered soon began smashing windows at the headquarters and a nearby Quizno's sandwich shop, 9News reported.

Denver police made 12 arrests, said Chief Paul Pazen, mostly for criminal mischief and obstruction. Seven were Denver residents and two were from Boulder. More charges are likely. One officer suffered third-degree burns and a concussion, Pazen said.

"These individuals came down here with the sole intent of causing as much damage, destruction and injury to our community," he said.

Gov. Jared Polis called the destruction an act of "criminal terrorism."

"An attack against any of our lives and property is an attack against all of our lives and property," he tweeted.

The violent night comes toward the end of a summer of protests calling for racial justice across the country. The first week of protests in Denver were violent too, but police themselves often contributed to it. They shot tear gas and pepper balls at protesters before a federal judge issued an order that limited their ability to use force.

Police say that while some officers used force Saturday night, protesters were the aggressors.

City officials will work with prosecutors to bring criminal and civil charges against those arrested to hold them accountable, said Denver Mayor Michael Hancock. One goal, he said, is to collect restitution.

"This should not be something borne by ... the taxpayers of this city," Hancock said. "We will take those who break windows, who inflict damage on our buildings, and make sure they will be working for quite some time to repay the people of Denver.

A flier for Saturday night's protest told people to "bring your gear," Denver7 reported. Another protest is planned for Sunday night at police headquarters. "GIVE EM HELL," a flier reads, and instructs people to bring all-black clothing, a respirator, goggles, among other things.

Officials said they haven't identified who's behind the violent protests. But Robinson, who is Black, said they are mistaken if they believe their actions are advancing the cause of racial justice.

"You do not represent us," he said. "Stop using the color of my skin as an excuse to tear up my city. These countless acts are not helpful. They do not represent what black lives are about, or the city that black lives helped build for generations."

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