Protests in Colorado Springs usually stay pretty tame, especially compared to those in bigger cities. But one local organization seems to always rub police the wrong way, whether they intend to or not.
The Colorado Springs Socialists — a mix of Socialist Party members, a reading group from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and other assorted left-wingers — memorably protested the now-disgraced shock jock, Milo Yiannopoulos, in black block getup. Their more recent "March Against Imperialism" on Sunday, March 26, was moderately attended, with about 15 to 20 people, but quite eventful, with six arrests. Their offense? Marching in city streets without a permit.
Citation wasn't the aim of these young protesters. They began at City Hall, where about seven cops stood waiting, then walked a downtown route through the streets broadcasting a pacifist and populist message. Via megaphone, police voiced unheeded orders to stay on sidewalks. Back at City Hall, protesters and police argued about their rights. Then the handcuffs came out.
Organizers say streets are a more strategic venue than sidewalks for disseminating their message because (as evidenced by the arrests and subsequent news coverage) of the added attention.
So, in the end, "it worked," according to Socialist Jeremy Craig, 35, "but it probably won't happen again the same way because we don't have unlimited funds to pay fines and we don't want to discourage people from joining us."
These actions don't always get snuffed: The historically well-attended March on Colorado Springs following the inauguration of President Donald Trump (our version of the Women's March on Washington) filled downtown streets, sans a permit. Those marchers, unlike these, actually held up traffic.
Another takeaway for the socialists is that their activities may be monitored. Two counter-protesters — one neo-Nazi, marked as such by his parting "sieg heil," and one self-identified anarcho-capitalist spewing white separatism — showed up to agitate, and the outsized police presence also suggests a degree of premeditation.
With all public demonstrations, police spokesperson Lt. Howard Black says officers' goal is to stay as invisible as possible. "There's a lot going on behind the scenes, sometimes riot control teams outside everyone's view, just in case," he told the Independent after the socialists' march. As for how police know when and where they ought to keep an eye on protests, Black says "[he doesn't] want to get into how we become aware. But I'll just say we're aware."
Other activists in town are befuddled by the socialists' fate. Olivia Romero, an organizer of the March on Colorado Springs, was called by police prior to that event. "They asked if we had a permit, the answer was 'no,' then they asked about our route and just told us to stay in touch. That was it," she recalls.
Day of, attendance far exceeded expectations with thousands of marchers flooding downtown streets. Cops on-site helped shut down southbound Tejon Street and northbound Nevada Avenue for safety purposes, there were no arrests.
"So when I saw six people got cited for just walking in the street, not doing anything destructive, it just didn't really make sense," Romero says. "I wonder if it would've been different if they looked 'normal' — you know, not in all black."
Her concerns are shared by Ryan Barry, head of the progressive group Unite for Colorado Springs, who strives to avoid confrontation. "It just shows how easy it is to get CSPD to overreact," he says. "I mean, was all that really necessary?"