Report from Denver’s O22 Demonstration

by Ignite! Collective

The second annual October 22nd Anti-Police Terror Demonstration in Denver was a priority when Ignite! first began publication. Receiving coverage in October when it was announced, it was a notable action due to the history of five demonstrations preceding it in a coordinated campaign utilizing a plethora of tactics and strategies to engage the notoriously brutal and repressive Denver Police Department. Up to this point, Denver has seen rallies, vigils, unpermitted street marches, vandalism, brawls, court campaigns, press conferences, and many other events in the context of the anti-police struggle. O22 in 2011 was shaping up to be a pivotal and defining action.

Set with a backdrop of a $365,000 effort to monitor and suppress the Occupy Denver satellite protest which has been ongoing since the end of September, O22 gathered at the entrance of the Denver Zoo at 6PM on the 22nd as promised. Fifty arrests had taken place the weekend before, straining the resources of local radical legal support collective the Denver Anarchist Black Cross. Regardless, a crowd of around 100, mostly donning black, listened to a short speech before merging between four banners held alongside the entire demonstration and flanked by several bike riding/walking protesters and two drummers. The National Lawyers Guild brought legal observers and the Colorado Street Medics had a much-appreciated presence as well. Taking the streets in plain view of a half-dozen police cars and nearly twenty cops on bicycles, the march took East 23rd Avenue towards York. Early chants resembled past demonstrations: “From Denver to Greece, Fuck the Police” and “Oink! Oink! Bang! Bang! Every Day the Same Old Thing!” were standards the crowd returned to whenever things got quiet.

Despite the police tail and blocked intersections, the march stayed tight, snug in between the banners, until it reached the main thoroughfare of Colfax Avenue, where the crowd massed to 150. Riot cops riding on the outside of SUVs began a circle of the neighborhood while the bike cops tried to confine the march to just the westbound lane of Colfax. One of the police officers was overheard saying to a colleague that they were afraid of being pushed into traffic by protesters shortly after several people holding banners rebuffed bike police intimidation by pushing the banner outwards.

There are several things to be said about the tactical overlay of this march as compared to the last two. In May, the strategy of wrapping the demonstration in banners to protect participants from being picked off by the police was employed more or less successfully other than an arrest after the dispersal. In July, however, this wasn’t employed as strictly and three demonstrators were arrested early in the protest despite a brave fighting effort on behalf of members of a small black bloc that day. At O22, this was emphasized before the march and largely followed by everyone in the streets that night. The police had a very hard time pressing the demonstration even though the protest was unpermitted and shutting down major streets for upwards of an hour and a half. This march, although not defined by its radical participants, was definitely noteworthy in its export of radical Black Bloc tactics and anti-capitalist sentiment to a more generalized crowd. More than 80% of the crowd was dressed in black and/or masked, marching with their arms linked, and between anti-police slogans the demonstration had spirited “anti-capitalista” and “the US government is illegitimate” chants. Another favorite was “the police are the army of the rich,” which was featured on stickers passed out to the crowd and chanted in defiance of the city’s previous dialogues on the issue.

Unbeknownst to organizers more than six weeks ago, when fliers for O22 were starting to circulate around town, Occupy Denver and lesser so the annual “Zombie Crawl” sapped a lot of the police department’s resources. Riot cops had been deployed earlier in the day to police a large but completely peaceful Occupy Denver weekend march, as well as monitor the roadside encampment which hardly does anything to merit police action any since last weekend’s arrests. The 16th Street Mall crowd on Saturday night, swelled by “zombies” and regular nightlife types, played directly into the O22 demonstration’s aims of direct action and confrontation.

After making a loop around the Civic Center Park, picking up a few dozen Occupy Denver protesters and several zombies, the march hopped through 15th and Cleveland, the site of the 2008 DNC Black Bloc arrests, and made their way to the 16th Street Mall. Some in the crowd, thinking the march was over and preparing to disperse within the teeming horde of the mall, began to meld into the crowd. Much of the march, however, kept going. The police began to back off, although it is unclear why. While they kept their distance at about a half-block behind the march, someone(s) sprang into action and dropped an American National Bank window. The cops had no reaction; they hardly even got closer to the demonstration.

The march kept picking up more people (upwards of 600) and began zigzagging down different roads between 16th Street and 15th Street, roaming down the street spraying graffiti, putting up anti-police stickers and smashing several more bank windows. There was one arrest, for defacing/destroying public property, which is from putting up stickers like the arrests in July. Early (likely panicking/ratings hungry) media reports also claimed that trash cans or dumpsters had been set on fire, but at this point it is unconfirmed. The march erratically made its way back towards the park to debloc and join the occupation, confusing and frustrating a police department that has thus far covered all sides of these demonstrations very vigilantly. After observing their tactical short-comings and lack of willingness to engage the crowd physically (especially considering crowd cover on the 16th Street Mall, limiting chemical and other “less-lethal” forms of suppression), it may mean they were running short of resources due to the uptick in social movement activity during the last month.

O22 was a success for a movement that has seen a number of them lately. All defendants captured during previous marches have beaten their cases or walked away with miniscule charges and no further involvement in the legal system. Police were outmaneuvered and outsmarted several times during the course of the evening, a trend that has continued since agitators behind the issue originally took the streets. It is unclear where the movement will go presently, as it is too early to expect demonstration to be called, but the police haven’t gotten any better behaved. Because of this, it’s doubtful those filling the streets to confront the police department will taper their behavior anytime soon, either.

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