Sam vowed to herself that she wouldn’t antagonize the police, but she still managed to find trouble.
The 22-year-old had moved to Denver less than a week before and, along with her cousin Izzy, 23, saw the peaceful protests against the death of George Floyd unfolding in Denver on Facebook on Thursday night and decided to get involved. Sam and Izzy grabbed their scooter and bicycle, respectively, and headed downtown. (Sam and Izzy’s last names have been omitted at their request.)
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By the time they arrived near the state Capitol, however, a different situation had emerged. And Sam—who claims she refused to participate in chants against the police—was soon in the middle of about half a dozen protestors blocking traffic and chanting, “No justice, no peace” at Colfax Avenue and Broadway.
As sunset neared, Denver Police Department officers showed up to clear the intersection. Izzy watched from the sidewalk as 35 to 40 officers charged toward her cousin, shoving Sam between their riot shields and a section of fencing behind her. Then, Sam says, one officer grabbed her and sprayed her directly in the face with pepper spray.
“It was only for three seconds,” Sam says, “but when you’re getting pepper sprayed in the mouth, nose, and eyes, it feels like an eternity.”
An orange cloud—the shade of Cheeto dust—enveloped Sam, before she fell backward. Blind and choking, she tried to crawl away as police officers continued to march toward her.
Suddenly, a 6-foot-5 stranger appeared beside her. Fearing that the officers were about to trample Sam, he began shouting at them, “You’re not going to hurt us! You’re not going to hurt us!” The cops swerved around them, and many of the demonstrators left with the police.
Once the chaos had passed, Sam writhed on the ground. Mucus, tears, and saliva poured from her face. The pain was so intense it left her in dry heaves. She desperately wanted to rub her eyes, but touching her face only made the agony worse.
The towering stranger didn’t leave her side. Known only as Mike, he cradled her and propped her up so he could pour water and milk down her face.
After about 45 minutes, they were able to contact Izzy’s mother, who began making her way downtown to pick up the cousins. But with Izzy lost and Sam new to the city (and temporarily blind), they didn’t know where to go to meet her. So Mike escorted them. It was only a few blocks to 13th Avenue and Broadway, but Sam leaned against Mike the entire way. When she doubled over in pain, he picked her back up. “He carried us through to safety for no other reason than human kindness,” Sam says.
It was only after they left with Izzy’s mom that the women realized they had no idea how to contact Mike to thank him.
So the next day, Sam and Izzy typed out a flyer on pink paper: “Looking For Frontline Mike. Met 4.28.2020 George Floyd Protests and helped us after the tear gas.…If you’re our guy: What shirt was my mom wearing? If you’re not, share with your Mikes.” They printed roughly 40 posters and taped them around the state Capitol.
Their Mike—whose full name is Mike P. Kelly—continued to protest throughout the weekend, and the 29-year-old Denver native kept spotting the pink posters with the screaming “MIKE” emblazoned on them. He didn’t pay them much thought. Then, as he marched with a friend on Sunday, they paused near one of the flyers. “Frontline Mike?” Kelly’s friend asked. “Is that you?” Kelly didn’t think so, until he spotted the question about Izzy’s mom’s shirt. “I knew immediately who they were,” Kelly says.
When Kelly discovered that he was the man in the wanted poster, the small group of protestors began a new chant: “Frontline Mike! Frontline Mike! Frontline Mike!” On account of his size, Kelly’s nickname used to be “Daddy Long Legs.” No longer, said his friends. He’s now “Frontline Mike.”
On Sunday night, Kelly finally called Sam and Izzy—who immediately asked what kind of shirt Izzy’s mom had been wearing. “Honestly, I had no idea what color shirt her mom was wearing,” Kelly says. “Izzy just laughed and said, ‘I knew it was you the second I heard your voice.’”
The cousins thanked Kelly and asked if they could buy him dinner and a beer. Kelly demurred. He had witnessed the entire incident and was awed by the young woman—whom he had thought still a teenager—standing her ground against DPD officers, shouting, “Is this the world you want to live in?” Sam’s bravery had inspired him, and for that he was thankful.
Keep Reading: All of 5280‘s protest-related coverage can be found here.