Roughly 2,000 Occupy Denver participants marched through the streets Saturday to broadly protest the growing divide between the haves and the have nots in the United States and what many see as a lack of accountability by the banking industry for their part in the U.S economic crash. Some of those marching wound up marching down a jail hallway.
While the majority of the crowd respected the work of police officers to facilitate the march, 24 protesters were arrested for staging a non-violent protest after being ordered to take down tents they had illegally erected in Civic Center Park. Others, sitting and blocking Broadway, were arrested after they refused to move from the street.
Attorney Rob Corry said he was in the Denver Courthouse Sunday morning meeting with protestors in jail jumpsuits. Corry said he was helping as many of those jailed as he could.
“This is a fluid situation,” Corry said. “This protest is still going on. I think it is going to get bigger. I think that the government is pouring gasoline on the fire. They are fanning the flames as it were.”
Police told the Colorado Independent that they had advised protesters that they were not allowed to raise a tent on City property, but had said at the time they were unsure of what the repercussions would be if the tents were not removed. While officers were taunted by a small number of protesters, others said that compliance to the law was imperative to the movement.
Law Johnston, a marshal for Occupy Denver’s march, tried to dissuade protestors from participating in acts that could cause tensions to rise between Denver police officers and a few hundred protestors who remained after the march.
“We are a peaceful movement and we are trying to operate within the bounds of the law,” Johnston told the Occupy Denver crowd. “Once again, I would like to say that we need to stay within the law. And that is definitely my decision. And I think that we should take down the tents.”
Many agreed with Johnston and began to leave. A small faction of protesters raised the concern that civil disobedience was needed, and they proceeded to act on that commitment.
“They do not pay attention to us,” said one man who advocated against complying with police orders. “Non-violent civil disobedience. That means we need to keep the tents up.”
A hundred protestors stayed in support of the “Thunder Dome” — a dispensary for food donated by marchers — with a few dozen sitting in a line across 15th and Broadway, stopping traffic.
“Across the street we had a tent, what we call the Thunder Dome where we were handing out free food to people,” Charles, a protester blocking Broadway traffic, told the Colorado Independent. “… Now they are trying to make us tear it down again, and this time we are saying no. We are being peaceful about it. We will not use any violence. They will though.”
According to the Denver Post, police moved on Lincoln Park, clearing the area first and then marched on protestors blocking Broadway. By 6:20 police were beginning to make arrests and many of those still remaining on the street linked arms as they were taken into custody and cuffed by police.
According to 9 News and the Denver Post, protestors moved to the 16th Street Mall around 8 p.m. where they caused RTD to shut down bus service.
The Post reported that Denver Police officers used pepper spray in one confirmed case, but protestors said other cases occurred.
“The vast majority of Occupy Denver protesters today exercised their free speech rights peacefully and within the bounds of the law,” Mayor Michael Hancock said in a release. “Unfortunately, some did not, and Denver police officers and State troopers were forced to take action and make multiple arrests.
“As I’ve stated all week, Denver will continue balancing First Amendment rights with concerns for public health and safety, ensuring the law is uniformly and consistently enforced.”
Corry said that he believed there would be a collection taken up to help bond people out of jail. After the first batch of arrests Friday, protesters quickly raised enough money to bond anyone out who didn’t have prior charges.
Most of those incarcerated were charged with obstructing roadways and unlawful acts on public property, according to Corry. There are also a few accused of resisting arrest and in one case groping a photographer.
Corry said that the arrests were minor enough that he felt protestors were likely to take their cases to court under freedom of speech protections.
“We have plenty of arguments to marshal such as immunity under the First Amendment, exercising their constitutional rights as a defense,” Corry said. “Ironically, the government is helping [the protesters] get their message out by arresting them and using the resources of the court system. So, I think that some of them will take the cases all the way to jury trials.”
Earlier in the day, protesters began arriving just before noon in costumes that ranged from Guy Fawkes to the Hamburgler and with equally varied signs.
From Ron Paul supporters to Barack Obama fanatics and anarchists, protesters all appeared to agree on one thing–the poor are getting poorer and something has to change.
Still, though there was considerable disagreement on how to bring change about, most at the march agreed on the need to end loose banking regulations that, in part, encouraged predatory lending practices and helped to inflate and burst the housing bubble. Further, the majority of protesters admonished corporate personhood, called for substantive changes to taxation codes and changes to the Federal Reserve.
Arguments at times broke out amongst protesters on topics such as whether the government was over spending and whether to work within the current political system or to simply start over with a people’s movement.
Others walking the march path, shut to traffic by police and RTD officials, were simply hoping for a better future for their children.
“My future is gone, but we still have a chance,” Sarah Isfahani said. “Just do it for the kids and try to change this country.”
Another protester, Dan Shoen, explained that he wasn’t as concerned about the Fed as other regulations that could be put in place on banking practices to stop further corruption. He also advocated for forgiveness of student loans to spur the economy.
“…We come from a lot of different places,” Shoen said. “Some of us are in the one percent down here. Some of us 90 percent, and some of us don’t have a percent to piss in.”
Denver police officer T.J. Sherwood, said earlier in the day that the police planned to shut down numerous streets in order to help facilitate and lead the march.
“We are just here to help,” Sherwood said. “That’s what we do every week.”