On Monday, Denver Chief of Police Paul Pazen marched with protestors. Two days later, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock joined the gathering, calling on protestors assembled at Civic Center Park to remain active after the demonstrations end. “It’s easy to march,” he said, “it’s easy to talk. The success of the march is when it’s over.…I’m tired of talking. Yes, it’s time to get to work.”
Thousands gathered in Civic Center Park before marching to Union Station and back to the state Capitol. Many estimated Wednesday’s rally to be the largest turnout so far to Denver’s weeklong protests against the killing of George Floyd, who died while in the custody of the Minneapolis Police Department. (All four officers have been charged in the incident, and the Minnesota attorney general recently upgraded one of Derek Chauvin’s charges from second- to third-degree murder.)
Hancock referenced his 30 years of activism, and much of his political career has been spent dealing with instances of police violence. In 2003, just months after Hancock was elected to the Denver City Council, police shot and killed Paul Childs, a 15-year-old legally blind, developmentally disabled boy in Northeast Park Hill. His mayoral campaign in 2011 promised changes to the city’s law enforcement practices. (Read more about that here.)
The mayor’s speech was mostly well received by the overflowing crowd, though Hancock did hear a few jeers when he asked for appreciation for the Denver Police Department. “Thank the police officers for guiding us on this parade path,” Hancock said. “People make mistakes. It doesn’t make up the majority of the police department.”
Murphy Robinson, the newly appointed executive director of Denver’s Department of Public Safety, the agency tasked with overseeing the police and sheriff departments, later followed Hancock. Robinson recalled his own discrimination by law enforcement and wondered, “Why can’t Denver be the example?” Many in the crowd seemed unconvinced by Robinson’s message. “I’ve heard this speech so many times,” said Kenny White, later, on stage. “I can’t trust you anymore.”
Yet another figure in Hancock’s administration spoke to the crowd on Wednesday, also relating his own experiences. Kwon Atlas, identified on his LinkedIn page as a communications analyst in the mayor’s office, vowed that “cops are going to start getting fired.” (Only two DPD officers were fired in 2019, though DPD terminated Thomas McClay earlier this week after he posted to Instagram a photo of himself and two other police officers in riot gear with the caption, “Let’s start a riot.”)
Robinson later responded in a tweet: “The Denver Police Department is working tirelessly to make sure our demonstrations are safe and accessible to all who want to join. It is not the job of the mayor’s aides nor do they have the authority to decide who gets disciplined in the department of public safety.”
The protests appeared nonviolent well after the 9 p.m. curfew, with volunteer “medics” passing out free water bottles and the Brothers of Brass busker band performing on Lincoln Street in front of the Capitol and leading a chant of “Black Lives Matter!” DPD was largely removed from the demonstration until midnight, reported 9News, when officers dispersed any remaining protestors.
Keep Reading: All of 5280‘s protest-related coverage can be found here.