This article has been updated.
Beads, bracelets and condoms littered the intersection of Colfax and Lafayette this Sunday during the Denver Pride parade. People danced; music bumped. But around 10:15 a.m., the party gave way to chanting as Buried Seedz of Resistance — a youth-led community organization that works to end violence against LGBTQ people — poured into the street to decry police violence in Colorado.
Youth linked arms and blocked the parade’s path with their bodies. Flustered marchers eventually agreed to turn down their music and walk around the demonstration. That’s when the activists’ voices finally became audible and intelligible.
“We are grabbing the mic for just a few minutes,” Cecelia Kluding-Rodriguez screamed into her megaphone, “to reflect on and honor the lives that have been taken and forgotten!”
Some onlookers yelled for the protesters to get out of the way, but they did not budge.
“The first Pride was a riot. Stonewall was an uprising,” Muki Najaer began. “We are here today to bring back the true spirit of pride!” She paused so protestors could echo and amplify her words. “In the last few decades white LGBTQ people gained many rights, including the right to marriage. But why do queer-trans communities of color still face higher levels of murder, police violence, unemployment, detention and homelessness?” she asked.
By this point, police were lined up in front of the demonstration, some on foot and some on motorbikes. Najaer started to give someone else a chance to speak, but word arrived that the protest was being shut down. As the group disbanded, its members chanted, “How many queer kids have to die? Your family values are a lie!”
The march resumed somewhat awkwardly at first. As police walked down the street past the protestors, applause and cheering from bystanders drowned out the chants. Soon enough, announcers on the balcony started up their commentary as if nothing had happened. Some bystanders were sympathetic, some bemused, some curious and some annoyed.
Buried Seedz lined both sides of the street, holding banners and signs. “#JessieVive,” one read. “#DisarmDPD,” read another. Protesters wore shirts printed with the face of Jessica Hernandez, a 17 year old killed by Denver police in January. She was sitting in a car with friends when police shot into the driver’s side door. She was an older sister, a poet and young queer Latina. She is one of thirteen who have been killed by police so far this year.
In a letter to police chief Robert White, Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey explained that the officers were acting in self-defense.
I have reviewed the entire investigation to determine whether to file criminal charges and I have concluded that no criminal charges should be filed. The facts show this was a defensive shooting by both officers. That is, their decisions to shoot Ms. Hernandez were justifiable in light of the manner in which she drove the car in close and dangerous proximity to them, threatening the life of Officer Jordan who had little room to avoid the car. The facts show that the force used by both officers was legally justified, and not unlawful, under Colorado law.
In the days since Morrissey decided to forgo prosecution, activists launched a recall against him. It’s still in the signature-gathering phase. During his decade in office, Morrissey has never prosecuted a cop for a fatal, on-duty shooting. In an email to The Colorado Independent, Morrissey’s office acknowledged citizens’ right to pursue a recall, but offered no specific comment on Sunday’s protest.
In 2006, Morrissey received the GLBT Community Center of Colorado “Distinguished Service Award”and in 2011 he was dubbed “Community Ally of the Year” by the Denver Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. He had a scheduling conflict that precluded his attendance at this year’s Pride parade.
After demonstrators cleared the way for the parade to resume, they passed out baggies to spectators lining the sidewalk. Inside were a list of demands which read as follows:
For the GLBT Community Center of Colorado:
– Every Pride parade should be led to honor the lost LGBTQ community members. Make this year’s parade for Jessie Hernandez, murdered January 2015.
– End police presence at Pride because LGBTQ communities are at higher risk of experiencing police violence.
– End corporate sponsorship of Pride by corporations such as Coors, Walmart and Wells Fargo due to their ties to the prison industrial complex, anti-immigration legislation and predatory lending and no-fault eviction practices.
– Allocate funding for employment opportunities for queer trans youth of color.
For Denver Police Department:
– Fire and indict Gabriel Jordan, Daniel Greene, Toni Trujillo, Brian Marshall, Daniel White, Jeffery DiManna, Justin Jones, Phillip Coleman, Cheryl Smith, Charles Wheeling, Jennifer Curtis, Joey Gasca and Ruben Conner — police involved in the killings of Jessie Hernandez, Ryan Ronquillo, Marvin Booker and Alonzo Ashley.
– Full investigation of all homicides committed by DPD officers from 1992-2015. 1992 marks the year the last DPD officer was indicted.
– Hire a special prosecutor to try cases of police misconduct. The district attorney is unqualified because of the mistrust he has created within the community of Denver.
– Demilitarize DPD by withdrawing from the Department of Defense 1033 program, which supplies military hardware for local police departments across the U.S. Instead fund non-violent conflict resolution.
For Mayor Hancock and Gov Hickenlooper:
– Dismiss Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey and conduct an investigation of the DA office. Morrissey has not filed an indictment of an officer homicide or shooting during his position as DA.
– Release and drop charges against Nate Mancha from Colorado Springs, who is imprisoned for defending his life in a hate crime.
– Abolish policies that criminalize queer youth such as the Urban Camping Ban, which criminalizes innocent people without homes.
Speaking with The Colorado Independent, Communications Director for the GLBT Community Center of Colorado Rex Fuller said that the organization does have programs in place to support LGBTQ youth and staff actively reaches out to youth of color.
“The other demands are unrealistic,” he said, “It would be impossible to produce an event of that size without police presence or corporate sponsorship.”
Regarding the sponsors, “we ask that any company that support that event or center have anti-discrimination policies in place,” Fuller said.
The annual pride parade usually attracts dissenters, but not usually from within the LGBTQ community. Westboro Baptist Church — a church known for public hate speech — has shown in the past, Fuller said, adding that he was pleased there was no apparent vitriol at this year’s parade.
Spokespeople for Denver Mayor Michael Hancock’s and Morrissey said they weren’t aware of the protest or the demands. Governor Hickenlooper’s office didn’t respond to The Colorado Independent‘s request for comment.
Buried Seedz organizer Mimi Madrid said she thought the action went well, though the impatient shouts raining down from a nearby Coors-sponsored rooftop party — “We get it. Move on!” — and the quick convergence of police prove there’s more work to be done.
“We’re not just here to dance and have a great time. No. Pride began as a revolutionary uprising to defend our bodies, to defend our identities and to defend our sprits […] We’re tired of the police just taking us out, picking us off […] So this is about bringing back that sacredness, that roots of uprising back into Pride.”
Photos and video by Nat Stein