Opinion: CSPD showed restraint Sunday night, for what it’s worth 

click to enlarge Cops geared up, hoping not to be needed. - HEIDI BEEDLE
  • Heidi Beedle
  • Cops geared up, hoping not to be needed.
click to enlarge Heidi Beedle
  • Heidi Beedle

In the interest of disclosure: I cut my journalistic teeth as an active participant in a certain black-clad political activist group that tracked, reported and confronted right-wing extremists in Southern Colorado. Starting in 2016 until mid-2018, I was a regular at rallies and protests throughout the state. I was a much better researcher than I was an antifa supersoldier, and I’ve developed a much more nuanced view of life since hanging up the hoodie and balaclava, but my history has given me a unique perspective on the recent wave of insurrectionist fervor that has gripped the nation since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

On May 28, two days after unrest erupted in Minneapolis, protests began in Denver. The Denver Police Department deployed riot police to control protesters marching in solidarity with Minneapolis’ black community. The kinetic response from Denver protesters has led Mayor Michael Hancock to order a curfew, and the Colorado National Guard has been activated. 

On Saturday, May 30, the protests came to Colorado Springs (and New York, Boston, Salt Lake City, Detroit, Houston and Washington, D.C., among others). The Colorado Springs Police Department’s initial response to protesters seemed in-line with Denver’s. CSPD fired tear gas at protesters on Saturday night, and protesters threw rocks and water bottles, and vandalized buildings, monuments and businesses downtown.

click to enlarge HEIDI BEEDLE
  • Heidi Beedle

On Sunday, I went downtown to cover the protests as a credentialed representative of the Indy (not that press credentials have done much to stop Denver journalists from being assaulted with pepper balls, tear gas and rubber bullets). I started my night by talking to CSPD. Their riot squad was staging on Las Animas Street, and officers were hanging out by squad cars, waiting for a call. Before I became a radical, transsexual “domestic terrorist,” I was an infantry soldier in the Army, and the scene reminded me the quick reaction force in Iraq. We’d gear up and sit in our humvees, shooting the shit and waiting for something to happen. The cops I spoke to told me Saturday night was rough, and that they hated to see this kind of thing in Colorado Springs. They hoped they wouldn’t be needed. They seemed earnest.

I spoke to a crowd of gun-toting, plate-carrier wearing constitutionalists with a sign that read “Justice Not Vengeance” In front of the Police Operations Center at the corner of Rio Grande Street and Nevada Avenue. They weren’t present for the protest on Saturday, but told me things would have happened differently if they had been. While we talked, they were approached by Garrett Shrouder, a former Marine, who asked the armed crowd about their intentions and their knowledge of firearm safety. 

“I go out and ask questions and try to figure out where people are coming from,” he told me. “Once you can empathize with people, you can speak to that issue. It all starts with empathy.” Earlier in the day, Shrouder had helped seal up a broken window at the old Cooper Tires building, the shop full of vintage motorcycles across the street from the Police Operations Center. Though protesters broke a window there, they didn’t enter the building or steal anything, as far as Shrouder could tell.

At the Tire World on Nevada, which was boarded up and surrounded by yellow caution tape, I spoke with Justin Gordon, a general service technician who was standing watch over his shop. “This morning one of my managers called me,” he said, “he sent me pictures of the shop and the front door was shattered to pieces, the inside was shattered, there was rocks everywhere. We’re gonna go through everything tomorrow and watch the cameras and everything.” Gordon wasn’t being paid to stand watch, but saw protestors as he was driving downtown. He decided to park and watch. People are less likely to throw rocks if somebody’s here.” 

click to enlarge Crowds chanted for officers to take a knee. - HEIDI BEEDLE
  • Heidi Beedle
  • Crowds chanted for officers to take a knee.

The crowd of protesters marched down the southbound lane of Nevada, with a vanguard of BMX bikers and skateboarders riding ahead of the main party. People on dirt bikes sped down the sidewalk on the northbound side, flipped around in the intersection of Nevada and Rio Grande, and sped north, popping wheelies as the crowd chanted and marched. When the mass of protesters were halted by barriers and police tape, cars pulled into the intersection behind them. A guy rolled a blunt on the hood of a Chrysler 300C while people walked through the crowd passing out free Little Ceasar’s pizza. There was an almost celebratory mood to the crowd; an impromptu block party in front of police headquarters.

As tends to happen, the party crashers showed up. The riot squad from earlier arrived with helmets and shields. Protesters took a knee, and the purpose behind the march, protesting the extrajudicial murders of people of people of color by law enforcement agencies throughout the nation, snapped into somber focus. Speakers from the crowd invoked the names of De’Von Bailey, Josh Vigil and Greg Burns, all killed by CSPD officers. Faced with the phalanx of riot cops early in the evening, protesters decided to keep marching.

Some teenagers began scooping up landscaping rocks and shoving them into pockets.

The protesters circled Acacia Park, headed south on Tejon Street and rallied on the steps of the Pioneers Museum, chanting “We the people!” before heading south again. Traffic mingled with the protesters, which took a dark turn when a red SUV with temporary tags plowed through the crowd.

For the next few hours, the crowd engaged in a back-and-forth with riot police in front of the Police Operations Center. The protesters pushed past caution tape and over barriers. A CSPD sergeant read a statement from Police Chief Vince Niski, condemning the actions that led to the death of George Floyd, but the crowd, then seated en masse in the middle of Rio Grande, chanted for CSPD to take a knee. 

click to enlarge HEIDI BEEDLE
  • Heidi Beedle

The sergeant’s attempt to meet the protesters halfway was interrupted. A string of firecrackers went off at the feet of one of the officers, and protesters scattered, scared of a hail of tear gas that didn’t come. A CSPD lieutenant took to a loudspeaker to declare an unlawful assembly.

I left the protesters at midnight. As Lt. Joe Kenda, CSPD alumnus and host of the TV show Homicide Hunter, is wont to say, “nothing good happens after midnight.” From what I saw, despite Saturday’s skirmishes, CSPD was making an admirable effort at de-escalation. They demonstrated a level of patience that Denver Police refused to even entertain. As police in Louisville kill protesters, and police in New York drive squad cars into crowds, it is important to acknowledge that things could certainly be worse, and to grudgingly give credit when it is warranted.

About 10 minutes after I left, CSPD dispersed the crowd using tear gas and pepper balls. 

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