Denver Mayor Michael Hancock on Saturday enacted a curfew and demanded calm as hundreds of demonstrators gathered at the Colorado Capitol for a third day of protests in response to George Floyd’s death at the hands of police in Minnesota.
Hancock said no one will be allowed outdoors between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. starting on Saturday night and extending into Monday. The Colorado National Guard and police agencies from other parts of the state are being called to Denver to help prevent chaos from erupting again.
“We have seen enough,” Hancock said at a news conference. “We are not going to wait for these incidents to escalate any further or, God forbid, someone loses their life before we take action. Again, we have seen enough.”
Protests in Denver on Thursday and Friday nights turned violent, leaving a trail of damage as demonstrators clashed with police. Officers fired tear gas and nonlethal projectiles into crowds.
There were reports of stores being broken into and looted downtown surrounding Friday night’s protests, which stretched into early Saturday. A dumpster was also set ablaze in Civic Center park.
The area around the Capitol was chaotic as officers worked to keep demonstrators from storming the building on Friday night. On Saturday morning at daylight, however, graffiti covered the Capitol and many windows were shattered.
Protesters also broke windows at the Colorado Supreme Court building across from the Capitol.
“Sadly, a few number of agitators are inciting violence and causing destruction in our community,” said Denver police Chief Paul Pazen. “Don’t allow these individual agitators to hijack your message. Don’t allow them to scar this beautiful city.”
Pazen said some demonstrators on Saturday brought guns and crowbars to the protest. He said Denver will not “tolerate this type of behavior.”
Pazen said arrests were made Friday night for arson, burglary, criminal mischief and weapons violations.
The curfew, an extraordinary move to try to control the chaos, will not apply to law enforcement, the news media, people going to or coming from work, the airport and its travelers, people experiencing homelessness and people seeking medical care.
City streets, highways, parks and sidewalks are all to be shut down under the curfew. Violators face a fine of up to $999 and up to 300 days in jail.
“Make no mistake,” said Kristin Bronson, Denver’s city attorney, “we will be enforcing the curfew.”
Hancock said putting the curfew in place kept him up all night and was not an easy decision. “But I don’t think we had any recourse but to institute the curfew,” he said.
Hancock said he has been in contact with mayors across the nation about what they are seeing and how they are handling similar protests in their cities.
Gov. Jared Polis said he granted Hancock’s request that he deploy the Colorado National Guard. “To help keep people safe and prevent further destruction and I have granted that request,” Polis said in a statement.
Senate President Leroy Garcia, a Pueblo Democrat whose pickup truck was damaged during Thursday night’s protests, pushed back on the deployment. “With the recent announcement by the governor to deploy the National Guard, I must emphasize that their first priority should be the health and safety of those who choose to demonstrate. We cannot allow the militarization of our great state,” Garcia said in a statement.
Tay Anderson, a Denver Public Schools board member who led demonstrations on Friday, asked people to remain peaceful on Saturday.
“Today I need people to be safe,” he tweeted. “If you’re coming to agitate, please do not put others in harms way with your actions.”
Demonstrators began gathering peacefully at the Colorado Capitol on Saturday about noon. They were marching in a circle around the building, chanting Floyd’s name and “black lives matter.”
While many demonstrators were on the sidewalk, some were spilling onto the streets surrounding the Capitol. Police officers on motorcycles followed the crowd.
Eventually, the protest moved down Lincoln Street into the heart of downtown.
Larisa Grace, a Denver native and an organizer for the protest, stood in front of a shattered store window as protesters marched by, reminding people to stay peaceful. “George Floyd deserves our respect. Enough is Enough. But we need to do this peacefully.”
Some demonstrators set up makeshift stands with supplies for the protesters, which included milk — to counteract the effects of tear gas — and water bottles.
Troy Nicholas, 34, of Denver, decided to join Saturday’s demonstration out of solidarity. “To help bring this to the forefront,” he said of why he joined in. “This has happened too much, too often and too long.”
Looking out at the hundreds of people lying down and chanting “I can’t breathe” — which were among George Floyd’s dying words — Nicholas called the crowd “beautiful.”
By about 4 p.m. on Saturday, however, clashes between protesters and police had begun. Tear gas was deployed at the intersection of East Colfax Avenue and Washington Street. Anderson was pleading on Twitter with protesters to go home.
By 7 p.m., an hour before the curfew was set to begin, demonstrators were throwing objects at police near the Capitol. Officers were responding with tear gas and pepper balls, as well as pepper spray. The scene was tense.
A little after 8 p.m., a swarm of dozens of officers began to advance toward protesters, pushing them out of the area around the Capitol using tear gas. Demonstrators lit fires as they cleared the area.
Floyd, who was black, died after an officer kneeled on his neck for almost nine minutes in an encounter that was filmed and has been widely viewed. On 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.
Staff writer Moe Clark contributed to this report.