“Sitting!” yelled the activist.
“Is not a crime!” replied a small group sitting on yoga mats in the Chestnut Pavilion bus depot next to Union Station in downtown Denver early on Wednesday.
“Eating!” the activist Ean Thomas Tafoya continued.
“Is not a crime!” came the answer.
Tafoya paused, then took a big bite out of a banana.
The group of about 12 was protesting a new Regional Transportation District policy that bans eating, lying and sitting on the floor at the bus depot because of “problematic and unsafe behavior in the station.”
Advocates say the policy targets those in Denver’s unhoused population that seek refuge in the heated confines of the bus depot, which is a public space.
“We see this as the continued genocide of the homeless, and we find it unacceptable,” said Asher Crowne of Capitol Hill Outreach Medics.
She and other protesters want RTD to reverse its new policy. In a press release last week, RTD CEO and general manager Debra Johnson said the agency implemented the new rules to comply with local public health orders and to keep the depot safe for “employees, customers and the general public.” The Denver Department of Public Health issued two citations to RTD after public health workers observed customers and employees not wearing masks, not social distancing, and eating.
Agency spokeswoman Laurie Huff said the policy also extends to Civic Center station on the east side of downtown Denver and the downtown Boulder transit center.
A few steps from the small protest, Timothy Reneau, a Denver native who’s currently homeless, was sitting with some of his possessions — mostly food and clothing.
“I just come down here to warm up and wake my body up,” Reneau said.
Reneau said he used to be able to relax — and even sleep — in the depot. But since the policy change, he said, he’s often been told by RTD security guards to move along.
Guards and RTD’s own police officers left the protesters alone on Wednesday morning. But they did ask a handful of others throughout the station to get up off the floor and to put masks on.
In the brighter, airy Union Station main hall waiting area next door, which is managed by a private company, three patrons weren’t wearing masks as they sipped coffee at about 8 a.m. When we asked about the discrepancy between that scene and the one downstairs, a security guard said masks weren’t required for people as they ate and drank.