Hundreds gather in Denver for 5th night of protests

DENVER (AP) — Hundreds of protesters gathered near the Colorado Capitol on Monday for a fifth straight night of demonstrations, which have been marred by violence, vandalism and hundreds of arrests.

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The group, which included Denver's police chief, marched in front of the Capitol building, chanting and banging on drums before streaming through the streets of downtown Denver.

A total of 284 people were arrested over the past four days, including 170 on Sunday, according to Denver police. The charges include violating curfew, assault, criminal mischief, assault on a peace officer, burglary and arson. Many were released with a promise to appear in court later but those who were accused of having or throwing rocks or have a criminal history were also ordered to stay away from an area radiating out from the Capitol for the next week during a video court hearing. About 20 protesters ranging in age from 19 to 54 wore jail uniforms with masks as they appeared before a magistrate from jail.

“A small group of individuals who were more focused on causing unrest and damage should not overshadow the overwhelming number of people utilizing their right to free speech advocating for justice,” said Conor Cahill, a spokesman for Gov. Jared Polis.

One man is suspected of intentionally driving his car at police officers, hitting and injuring three of them on Saturday night and was being held in jail on suspicion of first-degree assault and attempted first-degree assault. A court document suggests that Anthony Knapp, 37, targeted police after being hit with pepper spray earlier that night. It is not clear if he has a lawyer representing him who can speak on his behalf.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock ordered a citywide 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew through Friday in hopes that the protests would not devolve into violence after nightfall.

Meanwhile, Denver police said they are investigating an officer who allegedly posted a photo of himself and two other officers in tactical gear Sunday with the caption, “Let’s start a riot.”

The Instagram account appears to have been deleted after the post was shared on the discussion website Reddit.

Protesters and police clashed in Denver and cities across the country following the death of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man who died after a Minneapolis officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes even after he stopped moving and pleading for air.

Colorado lawmakers returned to work Monday in a Capitol building with smashed and boarded-up windows as graffiti was being cleaned from its granite walls.

Hancock thanked dozens of volunteers who lined up to help city workers clean up from the demonstrations, collecting trash and power-spraying graffitied walls, monuments and signs in Civic Center Park.

Several lawmakers had been trapped inside the Capitol building when the first of Denver’s riots turned violent Thursday night and tear gas wafted into the building. Friday’s session was canceled because of the unrest.

Lawmakers had reconvened last Tuesday after a 10-week hiatus caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Legislators in the Democrat-led House called for unity Monday after a weekend in which House Republicans in a statement accused Democrats of hypocrisy for allegedly remaining “silent on the riots in our streets” and excusing “militant criminals who engage in violence” rather than focusing on Floyd’s death.

Colorado’s Democratic Party, in turn, in a statement condemned what it called state Republicans’ refusal to reject President Donald Trump’s confrontational tweets about violent protesters.

While the statement from the Democrats did not address the violence, Democratic Senate President Leroy Garcia said that “those seeking only to destruct and destroy should not be associated with those asking for change.”

Democratic Rep. James Coleman of Denver asked for a moment of silence to begin Monday’s session. Assistant Minority Leader Rep. Kevin Van Winkle, a Republican from Highlands Ranch, urged members to work together so that they could “go home and work for peace.”

“I’m very angry that George Floyd and his family have to pay the price” for the actions of the Minneapolis policeman who pinned him by the neck, Van Winkle said. He added he also was angry at those “who would take advantage of the situation.”

“In the midst of all this chaos, we are here, together. We are here,” Van Winkle said.

GOP Rep. Richard Champion, a U.S. Army veteran, said he was tear gassed many times while he was in the military and offered advice to other lawmakers.

“Absolutely do not rub your eyes” if tear-gassed, he said.