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12 arrested, 1 officer hurt during “riot” in Denver; governor calls vandalism “acts of criminal terrorism”

Fireworks were shot at officers, an American flag and a tree outside a courthouse were set on fire, windows were shattered and fast-food restaurant was broken into during the unrest

Dozens of armed “anarchists” descended on the Denver Police Department headquarters late Saturday and damaged buildings, set fires and injured an officer, city officials said Sunday. A dozen people were arrested.

“I want to be clear, what we experienced last night was not a protest. It was anarchy,” said Murphy Robinson, executive director of public safety. “The people that showed up last night — the anarchists that showed up last night — brought weapons to the table. They had guns, they brought explosives, axes, machetes and had one intent purpose and that was to harm our officers that were there to serve in the line of duty to protect our city.”

Fireworks were shot at officers, an American flag and a tree outside a courthouse were set on fire, windows were shattered and fast-food restaurant was broken into during the unrest, news outlets reported.

One officer suffered a concussion and third-degree burns, said police Chief Paul Pazen. The officer was expected to recover, he said.

Gov. Jared Polis firmly weighed in on the unrest, calling what happened Saturday night “acts of criminal terrorism.

“Just as we all condemn inexcusable acts of terror against a family-owned restaurant, acts of criminal terrorism are just as wrong against corporate chains and public buildings,” the Democrat tweeted, sharing video of demonstrators smashing windows at a Quizno’s restaurant downtown. “An attack against any of our lives and property is an attack against all of our lives and property.”

Polis has faced criticism from Republicans for not being more forceful in condemning vandalism during recent protests in Denver, which have left the Colorado Capitol in need of more than $1 million in repairs.

Robinson said he was lifting a jail inmate cap that was put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to accommodate those arrested on Saturday and officials said they will look at state or federal laws to charge those who were arrested and will seek restitution for the damages.

People in the crowd said they were protesting for a variety of reasons — from efforts to defund the police department, to displeasure over the police response to a homeless camp last week, to the death of Elijah McClain — according to news outlets. McClain died after being stopped by police last year in the suburb of Aurora.

The one-year anniversary of the encounter that preempted McClain’s death is Monday.

Polis, who asked Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser to take a second look at the case to see if criminal charges should be filed against the officers involved, marked the anniversary in a tweet. “Tomorrow is exactly one year since the tragic death of Elijah McClain,” Polis tweeted. “Together we not only remember and celebrate the life of #ElijahMcClain, but redouble our efforts for justice and an end to systemic racism in his name.”

MORE: A year after Elijah McClain’s death, activists want charges

Denver leaders said Sunday that destructive demonstrators in Denver are not helping the cause.

“The narrative that these anarchists are marching for justice of Black lives is frankly false,” said Robinson, who is Black. “The public needs to know that you do not represent us. Stop using the color of my skin as an excuse to tear up my city.”

A number of Black civic groups and leaders in Colorado also denounced the destruction. They issued a statement on Sunday saying  they have “legitimate concerns about Black Lives and Black Minds Matter not (being) confused with destruction of property or a dismissal of anyone’s right to protest.”

“We are asking any Black citizen or youth wanting to protest to please seek out your community organizations engaged in positive forms of protest and civil disobedience,” the groups and leaders, including the Colorado Black Round Table, the Denver NAACP, state Rep. James Coleman and the Colorado Black Leadership Caucus, said in their statement.

Less-lethal munitions such as smoke and pepper balls were used to clear the crowd of 50 to 75 people, officials said.

“We’re not going to stand for their anarchy, their chaos or their mindless destruction in our city,” Mayor Michael B. Hancock said. He called the activities “riotous.”

Hancock, in a statement, added: “Unfortunately, there is a toxic combination of organized efforts on the extreme left and organized efforts on the extreme right to exploit this time when our recovery as a country requires collaboration and cooperation. What happened in Denver and across many other cities last night was not protest in the tradition of Martin Luther King, Jr. or John Lewis, and it does not reflect who we are as a community.”

The Associated Press and The Colorado Sun reported this story.