More than 900 miles from the spot where George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died after being pinned to the ground by a white Minneapolis police officer, protests erupted across Denver on Thursday night, as demonstrators stormed state Capitol grounds, blocked traffic on Interstate 25 and faced off with police officers, demanding justice for Floyd's murder.
Although the protest started peacefully, tension escalated by the hour. One video shared on social media shows a driver attempting to run over a demonstrator. The state Capitol was vandalized. Car windows were smashed. Police hurled tear gas canisters and pepper spray at demonstrators.
“The men and women of the Denver Police Department are not the enemy,” Denver Mayor Hancock told protesters in a statement late Thursday night. “For the last three months as we have weathered the storm of this terrible pandemic, they have put their lives at great risk protecting all of us.”
Hancock said, like protesters, he its “outraged” by Floyd’s murder, and that the community is right to speak out and demand change. However, he said, “the road to recovery” must be traveled together, in unity, “guided by equity and tolerance and justice.”
The mayor also said on Wednesday that the four officers involved in Floyd’s death should face murder charges.
“The video of this senseless and tragic murder of George Floyd, at the hands of these Minneapolis Police officers, infuriates me!” Hancock tweeted Wednesday afternoon. “Nothing short of murder charges for all involved will bring any element of justice to this situation.”
Denver’s recently appointed public safety director, Murphy Robinson, also released a statement Thursday night in response to the demonstrations.
“I am outraged by the actions of the officers who caused his death and I stand in solidarity with all who are demanding justice,” Robinson said. “However, I urge those who are protesting in Denver this evening to march in peace. Violence only feeds violence and at its worst, it has the potential to harm innocent people.”
Denver police chief Paul Pazen on Thursday, prior to the protest, remarked on Floyd’s life during a virtual town hall focused on youth gun violence prevention.
“First and foremost, I think it’s important to honor the life of George Floyd," he said. "That is a tragic death that never should have happened."
Shortly after the meeting, Pazen released a formal statement.
“The actions and type of force used by the Minneapolis police officers in the video are inexcusable and contrary to how we train our officers,” he said. “The Denver Police Department values the sanctity of life and is committed to respecting and protecting the dignity, safety, and rights of our community members.
“Recognizing that our practice needed to be put into policy,” Pazen added, “in 2019, DPD implemented a revised use of force policy that includes community input, which increases officer accountability while emphasizing de-escalation tactics to reduce the need of force.”
Denver City Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer also shared her thoughts on Thursday.
“My heart goes out to the family and friends of George Floyd, and my thoughts are with those protesting the horrific act this evening,” she wrote on Twitter. “Please be peaceful, and please stay safe out there.”
City Attorney Kristin Bronson said in the Thursday youth gun violence prevention meeting that “we have to mourn as a nation, as a community, when these kinds of things happen, and we also have to take advantage of the opportunity.
"These are really hard conversations, and we can’t be afraid to have them,” she said. “We have to take these opportunities to say, ‘What happened here? How can we as a city ensure that we’re doing absolutely everything to prevent this kind of tragic loss of life that happened here?'”
Bronson said city leaders also need to take “a hard look at ensuring that we really are doing everything we possibly can to make sure that this kind of thing doesn’t happen in our community — and we know it has happened in our community — and so we have to be better, and the only way to do that is to be really honest and transparent.”