Colorado Springs protesters a young, lively crowd with strong words for police 

Peace and passion

click to enlarge Organizer Larry Black speaks to the crowd gathered in front of City Hall June 3. - GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
  • Organizer Larry Black speaks to the crowd gathered in front of City Hall June 3.

Wednesday, June 3, was the first night for which Mayor John Suthers ordered a 10 p.m. curfew.

It was also the first night since local protests began May 30 that Colorado Springs Police Department officers didn’t fire tear gas at crowds protesting police brutality against black people.

“Remember why we’re out here, and it’s not to be hurt or get hurt,” organizer Renee Alexander told the crowd gathered outside City Hall at 9:30 p.m. in early June. “It is to spread a message. It is to be loved. It is to be respected.”

The night was filled with tense moments, but ultimately ended peacefully around 11:30 p.m., as a dwindling crowd marched in near silence around downtown.

There were no confrontations between protesters and police while the curfew was in effect (it expired the morning of June 8).

So who are the people demonstrating, and how have local protests avoided the violence and looting in Denver, Los Angeles and New York (other than the obvious fact that Colorado Springs is a relatively small city)?

“What we’re doing here is different,” organizer Justin Baker told the crowd gathered Sunday afternoon in front of City Hall. “We’re showing that we can get our point across peacefully.”

The people showing up for Colorado Springs’ evening protests are overwhelmingly in their late teens and 20s, though a good number of older people and children have joined the crowds during the day. They represent a range of races and ethnicities, and many wear their hair in dreadlocks or dye it in bright colors.

Overall, they look like they’d fit in at a music festival — wearing bandannas, carrying backpacks, burning bundles of sage, and passing joints or cigarettes. On Wednesday, someone waved a sign bearing Bassnectar’s “Bassdrop,” the ultimate symbol of electronic bass music.

The high-energy crowd is led by a group of young black men and women who’ve worked hard to keep things as peaceful as possible while rallying against police brutality. “Medics,” available to provide first aid, wear clothing with bright red crosses.

Though the protests were sparked by the May 25 death of 46-year-old George Floyd during his violent arrest by Minneapolis law enforcement, it’s not just justice in that case they’re calling for, but systemic change.

“They don’t want to hear us when we talk,” organizer Larry Black told a crowd gathered outside City Hall as dusk began to fall June 3.

“The only way I’m going to stop [protesting] ... is if the [district attorney], the chief [of police] and the mayor — all three on the same fucking day — come down here and march with us,” he said to cheers.

click to enlarge Colorado Springs protesters want systemic change in law enforcement. - GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
  • Colorado Springs protesters want systemic change in law enforcement.

A prevailing narrative from city officials had been that most of the time, the protesters were properly exercising their constitutional right to free speech, but things changed after dark.

“As the night goes forward and gets later, the tenor of the crowd — and, I think, in some respects, the composition of the demonstrators changes — and things have become more confrontational,” Suthers said during a news conference June 3 announcing the curfew order.

He cited “tens of thousands of dollars in property damage” during late-night protests up until that point, including shattered windows and floodlights at the Police Operations Center and the El Paso County courthouse, eight damaged police vehicles, and graffiti in dozens of locations. Protesters have also thrown rocks, bottles, bricks and firecrackers at officers, according to police.

Other groups with their own agendas, perhaps left-wing anarchists or white nationalists, were responsible for much of the violence and vandalism, Suthers suggested.

Meanwhile, the organizers have worked to make sure that people seeking to commit violence or vandalize know they aren’t welcome at protests. They call for peace during tense moments and decry the support of those who might wish to start violence. That seems to have worked, given the absence of confrontations with police for the duration of the curfew.

Many protesters also object to the notion that police tear gas and rubber bullets are always provoked by the crowd.

One locally shot video from May 30, which has made the rounds on social media, shows a man being pinned to the ground and repeatedly struck by a group of police officers.

After multiple media requests for comment on that video, Police Chief Vince Niski issued a statement June 2:

“This incident will be reviewed to determine if any laws or department policies were broken,” he said, without specifying who would conduct the review.

“The video appears to show officers attempting to take a suspect into custody after protestors were given a lawful order to disperse,” he added. “The suspect seems to be resisting, which is when officers use force to gain compliance and take him into custody.”

Once a review is complete, “if the officers have been found to have violated our policies or the law, the appropriate action will be taken,” Niski said.

At Sunday’s protest, the scene was joyful, but filled with somber reminders of the movement’s vital mission.

Two young girls who created a chalk drawing in front of City Hall were called up by organizers to be recognized. A woman and another young girl passed out flowers to protesters.

After protesters lay face down on the sidewalk to honor Floyd, activists spoke with passion and anger.

“It’s not just a hashtag,” Kevin Mitchell, co-chairperson of the Colorado Springs NAACP’s Criminal Justice Committee, told the crowd. “...If you truly believe that black lives matter and black voices need to be respected, do not argue with us when we tell you what we need.”

At the protest, speakers sought to raise awareness about ways that people of color and white allies should get involved to end police brutality. Posters urged people to support a new state bill.

Senate Bill 217 — sponsored by Sens. Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, and Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, would require all local law enforcement agencies to issue body-worn cameras to their officers, and that all recordings of an incident be released to the public within 14 days.

Among other measures, it would also allow people to sue individual law enforcement officers in cases when their constitutional rights were violated. Plaintiffs would be entitled to “reasonable attorney fees.”

Stephany Rose Spaulding, the chair of the Women’s and Ethnic Studies program at the University of Colorado – Colorado Springs, urged people to vote, know their state representatives and push for change.

“I believe we have arrived at a place where we no longer need the police,” she said to cheers, mentioning a court restraining order barring the Denver Police Department from using tear gas and other projectiles at protests.

“If your job is to serve and protect, and the very court system and the people that endowed you with that job are telling you that you are ineffective at that job... What is the point?” she said. “I ain’t got money to waste.”


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