Legal observers document strong police presence at DNC anti-war protest
Anti-war protesters at Monday’s Re-create 68 rally produced a spectacle of orange-and-white peace flags, but dozens of legal observers kept their eyes on the less colorful police.
Volunteers with the People’s Law Project (PLP), a group defending the rights of protesters, accompanied activists as they marched from the Colorado state Capitol to the Pepsi Center. Sporting bright green baseball caps, the legal observers shot photos of police and took notes on their interactions with the protesters; the information may be used in case of a lawsuit.
But while Sunday’s protest was marked by escalating tensions between activists and law enforcement, both sides remained fairly collected. At 11:30 a.m. Larry Hildes, a volunteer attorney and legal observer, stood on the east edge of Civic Center Park and remarked on the protest, which was slowly morphing into a march down Colfax Avenue toward the Pepsi Center. “It’s been really calm,” he said.
Hildes, a veteran legal observer from Bellingham, Wash., attended national conventions in San Diego and New York. Sunday, as a volunteer with the PLP, an effort organized by the Colorado chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, Hildes was stationed at the front end of the march, the spot where police and protesters are most likely to clash.
The thousand-plus protesters coalesced into a parade, following behind a police vehicle that looked like a glorified golf truck with oversized tires. Police were lined up on bikes along Lincoln Avenue, and as the protesters marched, the activists shouted: “Whose streets? Our streets!”
“When people start yelling, ‘Whose streets?’ someone is about to get arrested,” said Hildes, with his camera at the ready. Police asked protesters to stay within the street’s boundaries. “Watch the cops, watch the people coming around,” said Hildes. “They keep trying to move people in. But this is not going to fit in the area they want to fit us in.” But nobody was arrested.
Then the protesters moved onto Colfax Avenue, passing a group of pro-war counter-protesters who had gathered a block away, holding signs that read, “Support the troops and their mission.” Those protesters were shielded by Aurora police, which quelled interactions between the two groups. “I fought for your freedom! I fought for your right to be here,” one pro-war protester shouted at the anti-war crowd. “Most people are yelling and going on,” commented Hildes as he snapped a photo of the police. As the march continued, one pro-war activist held up a copy of the Constitution and said, “Unless you defend it, the Constitution is a piece of paper.” “That is our job, to defend the First Amendment,” commented Hildes. “The point is to allow them to petition the government for redress of grievances. Hopefully people will be seen and get heard.” But as the protest reached the gates of the Pepsi Center, Hildes noticed that the police weren’t just listening, they were recording the activists. It is illegal, he said, for law enforcement to record a peaceful gathering. “I am going to put you on notice,” Hildes said to a plainclothes man who was recording the proceedings, standing with a group of law enforcement officers. “You are only supposed to tape permitted activity. Do you have a card? There is a city ordinance saying if you have a business card, you have to give it.” The man said he did not have a card. One goal of the legal observers, explained Hildes, is to document the police when they record protesters in case that they deny such activity in court. A Secret Service officer behind a fence asked Hildes to stop taking photos. “No photos, no photos,” he said as Hildes snapped pictures. “I have every right to,” he replied. “You work for me.” As the protesters reached the end of their route, law enforcement officers in full riot gear closed in on three sides. “I don’t know if this is going to end well,” said Hildes. “It is a very tense situation.” “Fucking living in a police state!” yelled one young man as the officers multiplied. “It’s a police state, fucking assholes!” Hildes kept his eyes on the officers, making note when one pulled out a bullhorn. He might be preparing to give a dispersal order, Hildes told another legal observer. Protesters are often not given enough time to disperse, which can end in mass arrests. But the police made no such order. Protesters eventually dispersed, and the tension went along with them. Two people — at least one of them a protester — were arrested close to the Pepsi Center later on when they would not give their names to police. Hildes, meanwhile, kept his camera out. “It’s protection of the right to protest and demonstrate,” he said.
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