Denver protest devolves into 2nd night of confrontation

DENVER (AP) — Hundreds of people staged a raucous, roving protest in Denver on Friday that was generally peaceful until night fell, when police deployed gas canisters and fired pellet guns for a second straight night to disperse crowds gathered over the death of a black man in police custody in Minnesota.

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Mayor Michael Hancock and protest organizers called for calm and unity for the rallies that began midday in downtown Denver. But as evening came, the situation devolved.

Some protesters lobbed water bottles and other objects at officers, according to KUSA-TV. They scattered and retreated onto the Capitol lawn as police retaliated and tear gas filled the street. Video showed people on the sidewalk, coughing and vomiting.

“They are tear gassing! Go around the Capitol!” organizer and Denver school board member Tay Anderson shouted, according to the Denver Post.

Earlier in the day, protesters chanted “George Floyd” and “No Justice, No Peace,” as they marched from the Capitol to the Denver City and County Building. They proceeded along downtown Denver’s pedestrian mall and back to streets near the Capiol, where ground-floor windows were boarded up. Passing motorists honked their support as the protest continued more than six hours after it started.

Police detained at least three people — the reasons weren't immediately known — and erected protective fencing around police headquarters as a precaution. Some masked people milling about the Capitol painted graffiti on a statue near the building's west steps.

"Let not the story be about the riots and protests. Let’s keep the focus on the life that was lost,” Hancock declared after Thursday's violence.

“I can tell you not to go out and demonstrate. But the reality is it’s going to happen,” Hancock said, stressing he shared outrage over what he has called the “senseless and tragic murder” of Floyd, an African American, by white police officers.

The Minneapolis police officer seen on video kneeling on Floyd's neck was arrested Friday and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter after three days of often-violent protests in Minneapolis and around the country.

Hancock and Police Chief Paul Pazen blamed what they called a minority of agitators among peaceful protesters for inciting violence throughout downtown on Thursday. That violence included throwing rocks at police officers, setting small fires and damaging cars and businesses, they said. Both commended peaceful protesters and police officers for their restraint.

“We will hold people accountable if they look to hijack people’s pain for their own purposes,” Hancock said.

Three officers were injured and that 13 people were arrested for burglary, criminal mischief and assault Thursday, Pazen said.

Protester Mahlet Brhamesal, 24, said Friday that as an African American she saw a connection between repeated police killings of black people and the subtle and obvious racism she has experienced in her life, such as being accused of stealing a misplaced ring when she worked in a jewelry store and being called the N word.

“I could be next. I could be the next George Floyd," she said.

On Thursday, when hundreds gathered outside the Capitol, some protesters broke windows and spray-painted graffiti on the building, where a state patrol car and a lawmaker's truck were heavily damaged. In other areas, police in riot gear fired gas canisters, used rubber bullets and walked in a phalanx through the streets. The protest briefly spilled onto Interstate 25, until police used tear gas to disperse the crowd.

Police were investigating who fired shots outside the state Capitol that sent people running, Pazen said.

It was unclear if protesters were being targeted, and no one was arrested, police spokesman Kurt Barnes said.

Officers also were investigating numerous other incidents, including one in which a motorist appeared to intentionally strike a protester, Pazen said.

Both the mayor and chief said they supported continued peaceful protests going forward. A large protest has been called for Saturday.

“I am proud that you stand up and want to hold people accountable for these actions,” Hancock said. "When individuals choose the path of violence, however, it drowns out the peaceful paths of change.”

Workers cleaned graffiti off the Capitol’s steps on Friday as the smell of tear gas lingered. A few blocks away, glass from broken windows littered the sidewalk outside a furniture store. Employee Fernando Martinez told KDVR-TV that he found rocks and broken tables inside and smaller items like pillows and a credit card machine gone.

Downtown's Union Station, a bus and light rail hub, was closed for safety reasons. The Regional Transportation District suspended bus and light rail service into and out of downtown, citing the planned protests.

At the Capitol, the Democratic-led state Legislature suspended its work in anticipation of more protests. Senate Democrats said Friday the suspension was “in deference to the demands for police accountability” while condemning Floyd’s death as “a senseless, gruesome act of police violence.”

House Republicans tweeted: “We support everyone’s 1st Amendment Right to Peaceful Assembly, but we denounce violence and destruction. That includes the damage caused by some protestors at the Capitol last night.”