The most powerful moments in today’s anti-police brutality protest in downtown Denver were utterly silent.
A mostly youthful and racially diverse group of demonstrators marched from Civic Center Plaza down the 16th Street Mall to Arapahoe Street and back to the steps of the City and County Building on Monday afternoon in a show of solidarity that lasted a little more than two hours.
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In the wake of last week’s police-related violence—two officer-involved shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana, followed by the killing of five Dallas police officers during an otherwise peaceful Black Lives Matter (BLM) demonstration—fears that such an event could result in more aggressive confrontations were unfounded.
Instead, around 200 demonstrators, many of whom were recruited through an event titled “It’s Time” posted by an anonymous Facebook user acting under the name Denver Stand UP, proceeded through the Mall, chanting some of the movement’s established slogans (“No justice, no peace,” “Hands up, don’t shoot”) as police officers on bikes and on foot lingered impassively.
Although the marchers stayed mostly on the sidewalks and obeyed traffic signals, traffic control duties fell mostly to a pair of white teenage boys who pedaled ahead, laid down their bikes in the street, and held up signs supporting the marchers as they passed through each intersection. By the time the group returned to where the march began, the only obvious police presence included a couple of cruisers blocking off Bannock Street.
The unnamed organizers and leaders of the demonstration—which was not affiliated with Black Lives Matter 5280, the local chapter of the national movement—encouraged a peaceful protest. The most moving displays came when they twice had their followers observe moments of silence—once on the corner of 16th and Arapahoe streets and once on the steps of the City and County Building—while raising their fists in a black power salute. After each moment of silence, the organizers invited people in the crowd to come up and, using a bullhorn, say the name of a family member who has died at the hands of police. Each name was followed by the crowd saying in unison, ashe (pronounced ah-shay), a West African word meaning “amen.”
Meanwhile, at Civic Center Park, BLM5280 members continued their 135-hour sit-in, to mourn and honor 135 black individuals killed by police in 2016 (a number that varies depending on reports).
In a time of profound sadness and untempered noise about the racial divides in this country, Monday’s demonstrations in Denver served as a time for quiet reflection and mourning, and as a reminder of how much work remains to be done.
—Photos by Jerilyn Forsythe
Follow 5280 editor-at-large Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad.