DNC: Protesters get night, day in court
Rocky Mountain News
Vail, CO Colorado
DENVER, Collorado ” A day of relative quiet that had observers wondering what happened to the large demonstrations expected in Denver this week turned violent Monday night as police fired pepper balls and pepper spray at protesters.
Police dressed in riot gear and wearing gas masks clashed with scores of people who refused to leave a one-block stretch of 15th Street near Civic Center Park.
the Denver Police Department and Denver Sheriff Department reported this morning that approximately 100 people were arrested. No serious injuries were reported. Protesters were taken to DNC court, where proceedings started after midnight and were still going into the early morning hours.
The event started in Civic Center around 7 p.m. as protesters gathered for an unpermitted event designed to “Disrupt the DNC,” as a series of anarchist protests organized by Unconventional Denver have been labeled.
Attendees were told by organizers to “come ready for quick, decentralized actions spanning the downtown area at a variety of risk levels.”
It was unclear what prompted police to react so strongly. A spokesman with the Joint Information Center, a clearing house for convention-related security information, said the protesters were causing traffic and pedestrian disturbances.
“The whole mob was running down the street, pulling on trees,” said Jeff Cheney, 26, of Denver, who was walking his dog when the incident began. “I think the cops acted as necessary.”
But many protesters disagreed. “It was a very peaceful little march,” said protester Honey Traiman, 55. “They (police) came from every side.”
Observers said a small group of marchers outside the City and County Building on Bannock Street linked arm-in-arm and advanced on a line of police clad in riot gear before the skirmish.
“As we approached the police … they moved up and sprayed us,” said Amanda Hubbard, 31, of Denver, who was on the front line. “I got hit square in the eyes.”
After police fired the pepper spray, protesters fled across the park and onto 15th Street. There, dozens of police officers boxed the group into the block between Cleveland Avenue and Court Place. Caught in the police snare, some marchers sat down in the street, prompting officers to begin detaining people.
The sounds of chanting rang out, as a helicopter circled above. “Freedom!” shouted a group leader. “Freedom!” retorted the crowd.
Their cries were interspersed with shouts of: “Let them go! Let them go!” Some called police “Nazis” and “pigs.” One protester took out his anger on reporters, proposing that all “yuppie journalists” move out of the way.
While some offered water to journalists and protesters who had been sprayed by officers and many coughed in the haze, others appeared to be enjoying the skirmish. “F— the war! We want war! F— the war!” a few skipping teens chanted, clearly excited at the prospect of a riot.
About 350 people were initially detained, said Barbara Spagnuolo, wife of protest group re-create 68 co-founder Glenn Spagnuolo, who helped negotiate the release of most of those protesters.
But after agreeing to let those detainees leave, police began arresting and processing dozens who remained in the street. Reports of the number varied ” from as few as 35 to as many as 70.
By 9 p.m., the scene at Civic Center Park was relatively quiet, except for the sound of music, as a band played in the park. Bystanders remained, watching the scene in the street.
Earlier in the day, observers had remarked on the lack of drama and low protest turnout so far this week.
Some observers estimated that as few as 1,000 protesters have come from out of town. Low turnout for prior marches even prompted authorities to reopen some downtown traffic lanes by noon Monday, rather than the planned time of 3 p.m.
Even the evening’s protest that resulted in the arrests was small, compared to the tens of thousands of people organizers had predicted would show up.
Michael Heaney, a professor of political science at the University of Florida, who is in Denver to do a comparative study of the delegates and protesters at the Democratic and Republican conventions, theorized early in the day that an atmosphere of fear permeated pre-convention rhetoric, discouraging turnout.
“I think it’s a combination of three reasons,” he said of the lower numbers. “One, I would blame re-create 68 itself.”
The group’s symbol of a clenched fist and its name, calling to mind the violence of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, didn’t help. Neither did the media’s and city government’s reaction to the group’s stance.
Finally, “the third reason is that people are not that unhappy with Obama,” Heaney said.
By evening’s end, it was hard not to wonder if the low turnout had suddenly become irrelevant.
“I was scared for my rights,” said a man who identified himself only as Mario, 24. He was one of the first protesters to be released. “This (stuff) isn’t over. They (ticked) a lot of people off.”
The Rocky’s Tillie Fong contributed to this report.