DENVER | Authorities enforcing a Saturday night curfew fired tear gas and knocked down a makeshift barricade built by protesters next to the Colorado State Capitol as largely peaceful daytime demonstrations deteriorated into violence for a third consecutive night.
Hundreds of people protesting the death of George Floyd scattered as a line of officers advanced toward them five minutes after the 8 p.m. curfew took effect. The officers, dressed in riot gear, trampled over a barricade made of fencing and road signs and pressed through thick clouds of smoke as protesters threw the gas canisters back at them.
Dozens of officers used pepper spray, tear gas and pepper bullets to push back dozens of protesters in several locations around Civic Center Park. The show of force quickly cleared the Capitol and adjacent park area.
Two hours after the curfew took effect, police were scattering small groups of protesters several blocks south of the Capitol, some of whom set fires to Dumpsters in intersections and alleys. Apartment building residents watched the stragglers, some of them taunting police and firefighters, from their balconies. Sirens wailed as police and firefighters raced to hot spots.
Dozens of people simply walked the streets, ignoring police telling them through bullhorns to comply with the curfew. At least one person was detained for carrying an illegal firearm, police tweeted.
About 11 p.m., three Denver police officers and a civilian were severely injured in a Capitol Hill crash after the nearby protest had largely broken up, the Denver Post reported.
The four were injured when a Chevrolet Cobalt or Cruze ran into a police cruiser, according to a Denver Police Department tweet.
Anyone with information about the car, Wyoming license plate number 59722, is asked to call Crime Stoppers 720-913-STOP (7867). The car might have extensive front-end damage, the Post reported.
Blaming a small group of agitators for violence and vandalism, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock issued the curfew and called in the Colorado National Guard to help enforce it. National Guard officials said about 100 troops have been requested in nine sites in Denver.
Hancock decided to impose the curfew each night until Monday following a destructive wave of protests Friday night that followed more peaceful demonstrations earlier in the day. After dark, the state Capitol and other state and city buildings were vandalized, including a Molotov cocktail that was thrown at the McNichols Civic Center Building near Denver’s City Hall, he said. He pointed out that some of them belong to businesses who have struggled to survive during the coronavirus outbreak.
“What does this mindless destruction achieve?” Hancock asked.
Floyd died after a Minneapolis officer pressed his knee into his neck even after he stopped moving and pleading for air, leading to the protests in Denver and cities across the U.S.
Buildings throughout downtown were scrawled with graffiti with messages like “Kill Cops!” At the top of the Capitol’s West Steps, graffiti on the windows above the three entrances read “Stop Killing Us.”
Some protesters threw rocks, bottles and large fireworks at police officers, and police seized handguns, assault rifles and crowbars from protesters, Police Chief Paul Pazen said. He drew a comparison between the four Minneapolis officers involved in Floyd’s death giving law enforcement a bad name with violent protesters who were interfering with the message of peaceful protesters.
Tay Anderson, an African American protest organizer and a Denver school board member, criticized people who claimed to be allies of their cause but threw rocks and bottles.
“If you’re coming to agitate, please do not put others in harm’s way with your actions,” Anderson wrote in a tweet. “The last two days we’ve had innocent people gassed and shot at. Yesterday Black folks in Denver explicitly asked NOT TO AGITATE, because it would be us that would get the blame.”
The fear of infiltration was on display at Saturday’s protest.
Hashim Coates, a black man and member of the Colorado Democrats, and a white former Marine who had placed tape over his name on his uniform got into a heated discussion after Coates asked him why he would not identify himself.
Before that, the unidentified man, who held a sign saying “The Chickens Have Come Home to Roost” told a reporter during an interview that he did not want to be identified because he worked for the federal government.
Coates, who wore a face mask that said “I am not a robber,” later said he was concerned about white supremacists trying to undermine the protests.
But the daytime protest was peaceful, even upbeat at times.
The crowd gathered on the lawn in front of the Capitol and those across the street roared when the driver of a trash truck honked his loud horn repeatedly. Soon after, a woman in a Mercedes SUV with George Floyd’s name written on its windows drove by and then a cyclist hauling two shaggy dogs on a trailer with another on his bike pumped up the crowd by blasting Michael Jackson.
Later, people on both sides got down on the ground and laid on their stomachs with their hands behind their backs and chanted “I can’t breathe” for several minutes.
Maro Zagoras, 52, a mother and mediator from Fort Collins at the protests for the second day, said she was not concerned about the vandalism, seeing it as a form of self-expression. She also said protesters need to raise their voices to get their point across just like the clients she works with.
“When a person gets loud in a meeting, you know they are not being fully heard. It’s that simple,” said Zagoras, who held a long rectangular sign with four small American flags that said “Crying for George Floyd.”