Approximately 100 people were arrested in downtown Denver last night when a coalition of anarchist affinity groups and other activists attempted to march in the streets and were surrounded by hundreds of police in a standoff that lasted more than an hour. Police decked in riot gear shot pepper spray and pepper ball guns at activists, media and bystanders.
The standoff began at around 7 p.m., according to witnesses, when police blocked off activists and other bystanders on Court Place at 15th Street, macing at least two people who had nothing to do with the protests. Buildings in the area, including the “Big Tent” blogger lounge at 15th and Wynkoop Streets, were on lockdown for around 15 minutes during the standoff. Police also shut down streets and intersections for blocks near the location where the activists were being arrested.
Charles Chinn, a 33-year-old Denver native, was trying to catch a bus when he got maced by police near the intersection of 15th Street and Court Place.
“Next thing you know, they have people in the middle of the street and the police horses blocked off the back of me so I couldn’t get out,” Chinn said. “They were pushing people back and pushing people back and as they were pushing, they were shooting off the [pepper ball] guns, they were shooting off the mace.”
Chinn, who said he was not involved with any of the convention protests, stated that he was sprayed in the eyes with a canister of mace and that he was thankful for street medics in the area who washed his eyes out with water.
Police started “playing games” with the crowd at around 5:30 p.m. last evening, according to Larry Hildes, a volunteer attorney and legal observer who claimed that before the arrests, police had marched through the street medic tent and through the crowd around Civic Center Park to show force.
Hildes said that when approximately 300 people stepped into the street on Court Place, they were immediately surrounded by police on all sides.
Shortly before 9 p.m., The Colorado Independent was interviewing Hildes when police suddenly rushed into the peaceful crowd standing outside of the police perimeter, macing a member with a documentary crew that has been covering activists’ actions planned during the convention for months.
“Some of the crowd came over here and they — ” said Hildes before he was cut off by the police charging into the crowd with pepper ball guns and batons drawn. The crowd was peacefully standing outside the police blockade.
Activists and reporters instantly started to flee, while street medics holding on to each other’s arms started running backward away from the mace, yelling “Walk! Walk! Walk!”
A man with the documentary crew who was wearing a colored shirt that clearly labeled him as a member of the media was maced during the incident, and sat on his knees, coughing and with tears rolling down his eyes. The filmmaker declined to comment.
The police retreated from the crowd as suddenly as they had charged at it, and said they were looking for a specific person.
“At least one squad charged in, grabbed somebody from the crowd and held them for a minute and then threw them back in,” said Hildes when the interview was resumed. “I have no idea who, I have no idea why. No one in the crowd was doing anything illegal.”
Protesters are supposed to be taken to a decontamination facility to be washed of chemicals before going to jail, according to law enforcement officials with the Denver Sheriff’s Department, but it is currently unknown if those arrested were treated before being sent to jail.
According to police, the protesters were taken to a makeshift warehouse jail that has been given the moniker “Gitmo on the Platte” by activists. They will be released at the Denver County Jail if they post bond or appear at an unknown time in front of the Denver County Court if they don’t.
“I witnessed a bunch of injuries from pepper spray,” Hildes said, although he stated that he hadn’t seen any paramedics on the scene. “Apparently, some of the arrests were very specifically targeted. We don’t know what the basis of the targeting is.”
The exact number of arrests is unknown, because law enforcement officials have not yet released a current arrest report. Police have confirmed that both pepper spray and pepper ball guns had been used, but denied the use of tear gas or rubber bullets last evening.
Police have released a statement to The Colorado Independent saying that arrests were made “after a crowd of people rushed a police line and refused police orders to disperse” and claiming that there was “limited use of pepper spray” to “maintain public safety.”
But Chinn stated that he was angry over how police handled the demonstrators.
“I’ve been in this state all my life and for me to be innocently involved in something I had nothing to do with, no, I don’t like that,” Chinn said.
Also see The Colorado Independent’s continuing coverage of protesters and police during the convention :