For the past eight nights, thousands have marched through the streets of downtown Denver, protesting police brutality and the deaths of George Floyd in Minnesota and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, both at the hands of law enforcement. The demonstrations have featured mostly peaceful marches, but also violent clashes between the Denver Police Department and civilians.
On Tuesday, we spoke with six protestors about why they participated, how the mood has changed since Denver’s first protest on May 28, and ways they plan to continue to fight for change moving forward.
Darrius Newton, 25
Throughout the first few days of protests, Newton wasn’t sure whether it was a good idea for him to join in. He had seen countless videos of police using tear gas and rubber bullets—and it made him wary. “I am a Black educator,” he says, “and if something were to happen to me, I wouldn’t be able to have an impact in the classroom and help students.” But after watching the protests grow over the first weekend, the McMeen Elementary School teacher wanted to find his own way to take part. So Newton went to the Capitol on Monday, where he and a small group of educators kept watch over the massive pile of free bottled water that had appeared near the sidewalk along Lincoln Street. “All of these have been donated by people. Random strangers just come up and drop them off—whether they’re walking or doing it out of their car,” says Newton. “Interacting with those folks has made this a peaceful, hopeful experience for me so far.”
Sophia Garcia, 18
Garcia is one of the many young adults that have been trying to bring a Gen-Z brand of positivity to the demonstrations. “I am hoping that everyone can stay LIT,” she says, “which means that we can all have love, inclusion, and trust.” That attitude has remained even after a group of cops tear gassed a group she was with at 3 p.m. this past Saturday afternoon. Garcia, who is Latina, grew up in Aurora and says she has been involved in Black Lives Matter–related activities since Trayvon Martin was killed in 2012. At the time, Garcia and her middle-school classmates staged a walkout to express their frustration over Martin’s death. Now, as she and her peers are getting older, Garcia is hoping legal adult status can help them create more change. “So many of us were kids when the Black Lives Matter movement really started,” she says. “And now all those kids that cared about this stuff are adults. Hopefully, the unity that’s coming from so many different groups—even the Amish are saying Black Lives Matter now—will keep up enough momentum to make a difference.”
As the first wave of Tuesday night’s protest was heading back to the Capitol, marchers paused in the intersection of 11th Avenue and Lincoln Street. The group of thousands had traveled around six miles—up through Five Points and Curtis Park, down 16th Street Mall, on to Civic Center Park, and then along Broadway. One of the leaders wanted to remind the crowd that curfew was coming and the nonviolent mood that had existed to that point needed to remain. “No one do anything dumb,” he yelled into a bullhorn, “and make sure to hold each other accountable.” According to that same man (who asked to remain anonymous for safety reasons), a big reason why the protests have remained calmer during the past few days is that protest leadership and DPD have communicated better. Police Chief Paul Pazen walked with the protestors on Monday and Mayor Michael Hancock did the same on Wednesday. “The police department is starting to build trust with us,” he says. “They are realizing who are the peaceful protestors and who’s here to riot.” Better coordination with the city, however, won’t take away from the urgency of the demonstrations. “We don’t have no time left,” he says. “I’m tired. My people have suffered enough. We are going to keep protesting as many nights as it takes to make sure actual change comes. It’s just that simple.”
Fitzgerald Scott, 49
While the protest got under way on Tuesday afternoon, Scott sat on a hill outside the state Capitol, writing David McAtee’s name onto a cardboard sign. McAtee had been shot and killed by police just days earlier during similar demonstrations in Louisville, Kentucky, and Scott wanted to make sure people remembered the man. “The night he died I was here protesting,” he says. “I was trying to take a stand against something and it ain’t do shit. He still got killed.” That anger is something that Scott hopes the protests are helping more people understand. “Overall the mood down here has been really good, and it does feel really nice to be in solidarity with people,” he says. “But people are coming out to protest because they are not comfortable. We need the people that are comfortable to understand why folks are out here saying everything is not OK.”
Jane Shakur, 28
When Jane Shakur addressed the crowd in front of the Capitol on Tuesday night, she read the “Ballad of Birmingham,” a poem by Dudley Randall based on an actual event that took place in 1963. It details a conversation between a daughter, who wants to attend a freedom march, and her mother, who objects and sends the child to church, which is supposed to be a place of safety. The girl eventually loses her life when the church is bombed by members of the Ku Klux Klan. “I chose the poem to remind everyone that this isn’t just police versus civilians,” says Shakur. “We are fighting against the big idea of racism. The people that bombed the church [in the poem] didn’t care if they killed a girl, boy, grown men, grown women. Racism is the thing that’s killing Black people.” As far as next steps to combat that prejudice goes, Shakur plans to keep protesting. “We have to keep making our voices heard,” she says. “We can’t stop tonight. We can’t stop tomorrow night. We cannot stop.”
Lindsey Minter, 38
Minter says it was still daylight when she was tear gassed by Denver cops on Saturday. She and her boyfriend were heading back to their car when a small paddy wagon came by releasing canisters in an attempt to disperse protestors. “The police were just super aggressive the first couple nights,” she says. Despite how the day ended, the high school track coach is still holding on to how much the protest earlier that afternoon meant to her. “It was so healing and cathartic,” she says. “Yeah, we are mad, we are angry, but a whole bunch of people being able to say that out loud is powerful.” The next step, in her eyes, is to stay engaged enough to actually enact change. “We are going to have people going down to the Capitol to support the new bill calling for police reform,” she says. “I’m going to try and get on a citizen task force overseeing the Aurora government where I live. And we have to still be in the streets yelling the national names, as well as the local names. Colorado has its own bad rap sheet.”
Keep Reading: All of 5280‘s protest-related coverage can be found here.