Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said Friday that destructive behavior at Thursday night’s protest of a black man’s death at the hands of police in Minnesota sullied the message of demonstrators.
He said that such actions will not be allowed.
“When individuals choose the path of violence, it drowns out the peaceful cries for change,” Hancock said at a news conference. “All people will see is the violence, and not the cause people are standing for. … We will not tolerate violence and damage to personal and public property. We must demonstrate peacefully.”
Denver police Chief Paul Pazen lauded his officers’ behavior, saying they “demonstrated extreme restraint” as rocks were thrown at them and fires were set. Officers fired nonlethal projectiles and tear gas into crowds.
Hundreds of people descended on the Colorado Capitol and downtown Denver on Thursday night to speak out against the killing Monday of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd died after an officer knelt on his neck for almost eight minutes in an encounter that was filmed and has been widely viewed.
Friday morning Derek Chauvin, one of the four Minneapolis police officers fired after Floyd’s death, was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.
Three officers were injured during the Denver protest, including one who was taken to a hospital after being hit in the head with a rock, Pazen said.
“They performed in an exemplary manner in order to control a very disruptive and dangerous situation,” Pazen said of his department.
Hancock said Denver police officers “had to defend themselves” and that they were initially planning on being at the protest in a supportive role to ensure demonstrators’ safety.
Authorities say nonlethal force was used only after demonstrators began throwing rocks at police, but they said they believe only a small number of protesters were responsible for the destruction and violence.
Thirteen people were arrested, including for burglary, criminal mischief and assault.
Pazen said an investigation remains ongoing into a shooting that occurred during the protest. A volley of bullets was fired, apparently in the direction of the Capitol, sending demonstrators scattering for cover.
Pazen said no arrests have been made in the shooting.
Police are also investigating a hit-and-run that occurred during the protest and that was caught on video, though no arrests have been made. “We do have some pretty solid evidence with regards to that,” Pazen said.
Hancock said the city will allow demonstrations planned for Friday and Saturday to move forward, but that police will respond if there is damage or violence.
The mayor also asked people to remember that the coronavirus crisis is still ongoing and that people should stay socially distant as they protest. “The coronavirus is still very much in our community,” he said.
Hancock, who is black, said he understands the pain of demonstrators. He called what happened to Floyd a murder.
“I am proud that you stand up and want to hold people accountable for these types of actions. We stand with you,” he said. “We need to encourage, however, peaceful demonstrations.”