The Long Blue Line
The Long Blue Line of Denver Area Police Facing OccupyDenver Protestors Along Broadway
One hundred ten policemen, count ’em, most outfitted in riot-gear-lite, batons at the ready, lined up along downtown Denver’s Broadway, facing the dozen tents that OccupyDenver had erected during the afternoon of 29 October. A dozen tents, a couple of hundred unarmed protesters, and Deidre and me. She is armed with a camera and me, with a notebook and pen.
It’s about 5 PM and we had just finished talking with Congressman Ed Perlmutter up on the 16th Street Mall. (See my earlier Diary: Overwhelming Police Force at Occupy Denver.) He had strongly suggested that we avoid Civic Center Park due to the heavy police presence after an earlier confrontation in which police used pepper spray, rubber bullets and batons against the protesters. We had looked at each other and said, “Let’s go down there.”
The OccupyDenver Protest March Winds up to the State Capitol. Note the Denver Post Building in Background.
Earlier, Deidre and I along with a group of about 15 people from what is known as the “south suburban” area (code for well-off, mostly white suburbs of Denver) had marched in the two-hour circuit around the streets of downtown Denver. Heavy police presence, cruisers blocking off traffic so we could march without interruption, and lots of bicycle cops keeping tabs, but no interference from the cops, characterized the march. That is, until the end, at about 2:30 PM, when we gathered on the west side of the State Capitol, as do protesters of all varieties, just about every day in the year.
When a group moved onto the steps, sirens sounded and police moved in to push people back down onto the pavement. Apparently, one needs a permit to stand on the steps. People began to melt away at that point, although there were small groups of protesters who seemed a bit agitated. Our group went back to the mall for a late lunch – and missed the ensuing police-protester confrontation at the Civic Center Park.
Police Vehicles Blocking Broadway at Colfax.
But now Deidre and I hurried back to the park to document the action. We found the heavy police presence described by Congressman Perlmutter: Broadway was blocked off between Colfax and 14th Street by about 50 police vehicles.
So, I guess this is what is known as a “standoff” situation. The police are lined up facing the protestors and the protestors are lined up facing the police and nothing is happening. A few drums keep up an ominous rumble in the background. Deidre and I wander up and down the line, talking to the protestors, talking to one of the less stolid police officers. A few protestors taunt the police. A few point out that they are part of the 99% and are getting screwed along with the rest of us. Only the protesters look happy.
We talk with protesters who said they had been hit earlier by rubber bullets. One very polite man, who had been wandering about all afternoon gathering signatures for a ballot issue on marijuana legalization and regulation, says he had been hit on the back with a police baton.
Deidre, who has been snapping pictures, says she has to leave for an evening engagement. I tell her that I’ll take the light rail home, I want to stay. I phone my husband, tell him I’m standing in front of a line of police in riot gear and dinner will be late. He says, “Whatever. Call me if you need bail.” That’s why I married him.
Policeman in Riot Gear Holding Rubber Bullet Gun
5:30 PM. There is movement behind the line of cops who have been standing with yard-long black batons held in both hands, parallel to the ground. Now, every 50 feet or so, a cluster of 3 or 4 cops gathers. Some hold what look like cheap black plastic machine guns with orange handles – the kind you buy for your kid at Toys-R-Us. Others are strapping on what look like your basic home-size bright red fire extinguisher in a holster around their thigh.
5:43 PM. A police officer with a bull horn makes an announcement to the effect that if all the tents are taken down in five minutes, then no further action will be taken.
Cops in Riot Gear: Note Red Canister of Pepper Spray on Leg of Cop on Left and Cool Tattoo on Arm of Cop on Right
I’m told that the red canisters are pepper spray and the guns shoot rubber bullets.
5:47 PM. As no one has made a move to take down tents, I decide to move to the sidelines. I shake the hand of a young man who is wrapping his face in bandanas and wish him good luck. He tells me that if I get into trouble to look for people with some kind of orange marking on their clothing – and he points to a rather grubby length of orange braid on his sleeve: The Occupy Security group.
5:48 PM. I have moved further down the sidewalk back towards Colfax when I realize that the wind has picked up and we are downwind of any kind of spray or gas that might be released. Good move! I pull my scarf up around my nose and mouth and put my dark glasses back on. Which renders me almost totally useless because now I can’t see. Take off dark glasses.
No tents are down and another announcement over the police bull horn: the wind blows only disconnected phrases towards me. “….in violation of ….blah, blah, blah……commanded to disperse ……5 minutes…..blah, blah..”
5:52 PM. Police line and protester line are both holding.
5:54 PM More police bull horn. “…..move …..in violation of…blah, blah….” I notice a police officer with shoulder held camera filming the protesters. Me included. Should have left on dark glasses and scarf around face.
5:57 PM More police bull horn: “…violation of … blah, blah …..”
5:58 PM. And this I swear is true. Enter from stage right (Colfax, in the real world) a group of 6 Hare Krishnas, garments swirling in the gathering gloom, tambourines tinkling, chanting peace and love to all….. We watch with mouths agape as they twinkle along, right in front of the armed police line and exit off stage left.
5:59 PM. Police don gas masks.
6:01 PM. Police line, batons extended, moves into the park, pushing the protesters in front of them. From my vantage point off to the side, there seems to be minimal resistance on the part of the protesters. I don’t detect any pepper spray blowing my way.
6:03 PM. What appears to be a homeless man is dragged by police from his sleeping bag on the sidewalk and hauled away. He is a bit agitated.
I am pulled from the middle of Broadway, where I have gone to get a better view and take some pictures with my phone, just as a half-dozen riot-suited policeman run up to range themselves in front of me. The very large, but genial man, after he has hauled me back to the sidewalk, introduces himself as from the Democratic Central Committee. He has seen the report of violence on the local TV news and has come over to see what is happening. This is the second time I have been “rescued” by well-meaning males. (The first was from a group of large, leather-clad thugs who had ringed a Tea Party rally, and were crowding me, as well as jabbing fingers towards my eyes. The place was awash with TV news cameras, so I wasn’t particularly worried.)
6:12 PM. A big white stake-bed truck arrives as police are piling up tarps, tents and bedding in the middle of Broadway.
6:15 PM. It is getting dark and, since I dressed for a sunny Denver afternoon, I am starting to shiver with cold. Time to leave. But the Occupiers are staying, without tents, tarps or sleeping bags.
As a commenter pointed out, most eloquently, on Yves Smith’s blog, naked capitalism, yesterday, the cops are part of the 99%, they are following the orders of their officers, who are following the orders of the Denver mayor and the Colorado governor. Thank you, Mayor Hancock and Governor Hickenlooper. Glad you’re Democrats (snark).