Protesters stood alongside traffic next to Denver’s Civic Center Monday night, signs in hand, huddled up in the cold.
Their gathering was one of many around the country as a grand jury in Clayton Missouri ruled not to indict Police Officer Darren Wilson for fatally shooting Michael Brown on August 9th.
Denver officials were concerned about demonstrations turning violent after the ruling was announced, but protesters for the most part remained peaceful.
While some came out on their own in solidarity with Brown, his family and Ferguson, most waving red and black flags and shouting “No justice, no peace” were part of the Occupy Denver community that formed as a grassroots economic movement in 2011. Largely because of their own run-ins with police, they take a special interest in excessive force.
“We’re kind of an activist network, so we’re involved with a lot of social justice issues,” said Eric Verlo, a member of Occupy Denver. He was one of the earliest to arrive at Civic Center, holding a large red banner saying “Your ‘Peace’ is Deadly.” Other protesters carried signs saying “This is the New Jim Crow” and “Murder By Cops is Lynching.”
“This is an issue where we need to show solidarity not just with an embattled population in Ferguson facing racism,” said Verlo. “They’re facing a militarized police state, and that’s something that we see here in Denver. That’s an issue for all of us.”
Some protesters wore the now-customary Guy Fawkes masks and banged on homemade drums. As the night wore on, Occupy protesters split off to march down the 16th Street Mall, chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot.” Police officers followed from a distance, blocking off traffic as marchers stopped at Glenarm Place, lying on the cold pavement for four and half minutes to signify the four and a half hours Mike Brown’s body was left in the street after he was shot by Wilson in August.
Anita Cameron came to Civic Center after seeing events unfold in Ferguson online. She’s a black local activist who works mainly around disability rights but felt she needed to “walk the walk” on this issue.
“I’m a little bit nervous about some of [Occupy’s] rhetoric,” she said. “But who am I to tell them what to say? I completely understand their anger towards the police.”
“Certainly no disrespect, but I expected the majority of people out here to be black folk,” Cameron added.
Denver is a predominantly white city and it was a mostly white demonstration. A young black couple stood a few yards away from the main demonstration, holding up a bed-sheet protest sign: “My Skin is Not My Sin.”
A Denver vigil for Michael Brown has been planned for today, as eyes turn to the fallout from rioting in Ferguson.