DENVER | Police fired tear gas, foam rounds and pepper balls at demonstrators defying a Denver curfew Sunday night following a day of peaceful marching and chants of “Don’t shoot” alongside boarded-up businesses that had been vandalized the night before.
Dozens of demonstrators, some wearing gas masks or throwing fireworks, taunted police and pushed Dumpsters into the streets hours after the 8 p.m. curfew.
Some smashed windows or ripped off protective boarding on storefronts; police responded with rounds of tear gas that sent protesters fleeing from several locations, including the state Capitol and Denver police headquarters. Officers pepper-sprayed several demonstrators and took them into custody.
Citing the unrest, Denver’s Regional Transportation District said it would again suspend bus and light rail service into and out of downtown on Monday. And Jason Dunn, the U.S. attorney for Colorado, announced his office will work with the local FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force to investigate any violations of federal law by what he called violent agitators hijacking peaceful protests.
Earlier Sunday, people at one point laid on the ground on their stomachs with their hands behind their backs and chanted “I can’t breathe” for several minutes. At a protest that drew several hundred people in Colorado Springs, the same symbolic act played out in reference to what happened before George Floyd died in Minneapolis.
The protests over Floyd’s death came after a turbulent protest that led to the arrest of 83 people Saturday night, most for breaking a curfew and some others for damaging property or having prohibited weapons, Denver police said. People brought crowbars, bats and rifles to the demonstration, Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen said.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock ordered the overnight curfew on Saturday after violent protests at the state Capitol on Friday.
He called the behavior of unruly protesters “reckless, inexcusable and unacceptable” and blamed “outside instigators” for hijacking the important message of peaceful protesters who are rightfully decrying what happened to Floyd.
“What justice is served by breaking windows at the library or city hall?” Hancock said. “Whose life are you honoring when you loot businesses in our city, businesses already struggling to survive in one of the toughest times imaginable? What change do you inspire by setting a car on fire, throwing rocks at police officers or vandalizing people’s property?”
The longtime mayor added: “The person who brought a crowbar last night wasn’t thinking about George Floyd. Neither were the people who brought assault rifles and handguns and explosive bombs. They weren’t thinking about George Floyd.”
Floyd, a black man, died after a white Minneapolis officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck even after he stopped moving and pleading for air, leading to the protests in Denver and cities across the U.S. and Europe.
Enforcing a Saturday night curfew, officers dressed in riot gear knocked down a barricade of fencing and road signs built by protesters next to the Capitol and fired tear gas. Some protesters threw the gas canisters back at police, and hundreds of people scattered amid the smoke.
Three police officers and another person were injured when a car crashed into a police cruiser. The three officers are all expected to recover, Pazen said. The condition of the other person was unknown. Pazen said they had found the driver and the car and that the case was under investigation.
Esther Okanlawon was among the demonstrators Sunday afternoon when things remained calm. She said brought her 6-year-old daughter to the protest to show her how to make change. She has talked to her daughter about racism, the Denver Post reported.
“We tell her that unfortunately people are going to treat her differently because of the color of her skin,” Okanlawon said.
Amanda Sendero and Garrett Teal were among the volunteers helping cleanup the city. Sendero and Teal participated in the protest Saturday night and came back Sunday wearing masks and latex gloves as they put trash into bags saying it was a way to show they care about the city where they live.
“I do not want people to see all this destruction and junk and think this is the way,” said Teal, who recently moved to Denver from Florida.
They picked up trash near a brick war memorial that was covered in black spray paint that read, “Death 2 America. They didn’t die for this.”