On Friday July 12th, a diverse group of leftist organizations and activists known as the Coalition to Close the Concentration Camps (CCCC) marched in protest of the human rights abuses inflicted upon immigrants by the American government and the corporations that profit from their detainment. The march ended on the street in front of the Aurora ICE Detention Facility, owned and operated by the for-profit GEO Group, where it merged with the Lights for Liberty (L4L) vigil.
Following the lead of a group of indigenous people and people of color who have been impacted by state violence, a large number of protesters broke from the crowd, crossed the temporary cordon onto the GEO Group property, and continued to peacefully demonstrate near the doors of the facility. This action occurred spontaneously, without a leading organization, and included protesters from both the CCCC march and the Lights for Liberty vigil. Gathered more than 100 yards away from the L4L event, the breakaway group did not disrupt the vigil or antagonize its attendees, as they focused their protest on the facility itself and the complicit GEO Group employees visible inside the building.
Despite claims that the breakaway protest was unsafe or threatening, the protesters held a strictly nonviolent demonstration. They participated in chants (“Let Them In,” “Close the Camps,” “All the Power to All the People”), they heard speeches from those affected by abusive anti-immigrant policy, and they circled around a group of indigenous people who sang, offered prayer, and urged solidarity with all demonstrators. Most of all, they demanded their right to stand before the doors of the facility, a reminder that the detention center itself sits on stolen land and that the borders between nations were created by American and European imperialists in very recent history. In spite of their non-violent action, the activists were repeatedly harangued and insulted by the L4L organizers, who seemed to be more outraged by the impropriety of the gathering than by the abuses inflicted within the facility. There was zero response from the police.
“It is absurd to equate peaceful occupation of GEO property and the damage of three pieces of nylon with violence.”
The most publicized aspect of the protest was the removal of the GEO Group flag, Colorado state flag, and United States flag. These acts, along with the move to raise a Mexican flag, an “Abolish ICE” flag, and a “Fuck the Cops” flag, were spontaneous actions carried out by a cross-section of demonstrators in protest against the GEO Group and state institutions that profit from violence against citizens and non-citizens alike. The flags were brought to the demonstration by various protesters. Contrary to reports that “Abolish ICE” was written on an American flag, it was in fact a “Blue Lives Matter” flag, already a bastardization of American symbolism in service to the authoritarian police state. The Mexican flag was raised in solidarity with immigrants from all nations who have been systematically targeted, harassed, and abused in this country. The fact that the media has obsessed over this single moment in the protest over any other is a symptom of a system designed by corporate powers to create distraction and sow division among groups who share the same goals.
It is absurd to equate peaceful occupation of GEO property and the damage of three pieces of nylon with violence. It is wrong to label a diverse group of radical, non-violent protesters as a threat. The protection of undocumented people is of the highest importance, and the real danger to them came from Lights for Liberty organizers who collaborated with police and invited them to be present throughout the entire event. That poor decision was followed by a reckless one, when an L4L organizer took the stage — interrupting the poem of a young man whose mother is detained in the camp — to claim that the police had ordered the crowd to disperse. (The Aurora police chief later said he had issued no such order.) Immigrants and people of color live under the constant threat of violence from police. The L4L organizer’s use of that real risk made most of the protesters depart, leaving the folks who stayed even more vulnerable. That action was an attack against everyone peacefully assembled there.
Finally, to those who argue that the radical protesters went too far and crossed a line, we disagree. Using respectability politics to denounce actions taken by and alongside impacted immigrants and people of color is shameful, divisive, and plays into the hands of authorities who prefer a quiet and complacent public. Legality and morality are not synonymous, and no movement against authoritarian policy can be successful if individuals are unnerved by simple and peaceful civil disobedience. Are any among us proud to see an American flag waving over a concentration camp?
The Boulder Democratic Socialists of America stand in radical solidarity with those struggling to dismantle ICE, the carceral state, and U.S. imperialism. The people must pick up the sledgehammer themselves to abolish ICE and liberate all those trapped inside the GEO concentration camps: Brick by brick, wall by wall, flag by flag.
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