(Disclaimer: This reportback is authored by several participants and members of Queen City Antifa. However, it should not be assumed or insinuated that the comments, conclusions, or descriptions of events in anyway represent the feelings or experiences of anyone else, including other organizers, collectives, or participants. So, let’s just be clear: This reportback does not represent the opinions of West Denver Copwatch, Denver Anarchist Black Cross, or any other supporting groups or individuals other than the authors. Clear? Cool.)
Since the nearly year old murder of Marvin Booker at the hands of Denver Sheriff’s Deputies in the Van Cise-Simonet Detention Center, a movement against police and policing has grown in the Denver metro area. Between July 2010 and May 2011, at least 3 militant and unpermitted street marches have been organized. Press conferences, vigils, rallies, panel discussions, and other protests and events have also been held to protest not only the murder of Marvin at the hands of his jailers, but also others who have been murdered, beaten, attacked, raped, and assaulted by police in the greater metro area.
In early April, an announcement started appearing on the internet and through handbills and posters calling for another march to be held on May 6th. This would mark the 4th march in a series of increasingly militant and larger street actions challenging police terror in the metro area.
The call was the first that explicitly intended to link foreign occupations by militaries with local occupations by police forces, as well as make connections between local police terror to the ongoing class and social conflicts raging in the U.S. and countries all over the world. (http://queencityantifa.wordpress.com/2011/04/22/march-against-police-terror-march-for-marvin-oleg-and-all-the-victims/)
The callout would not be the only aspect that clearly set apart this march from the events preceding it.
As the momentum from the previous protests fueled organizers and supporters, the increasing militancy of the previous protests alarmed and frightened others. At least one anonymous comment appeared on Colorado Indymedia, “warning” people of the many dangers they faced if they attended the demonstration.
The logic presented seemed to rely on the idea that the past marches had gotten lucky, but this time the cop response would be much worse. Since the militancy of the previous protests had upped the ante, the cops would respond in full this time around.
As an indication that this logic had basis in reality, a representative of the Department of Justice Office of Civil Rights attempted on seemingly multiple occasions to contact protest organizers to set up “negotiations” between the organizers and local police. The local movement responded to this in a variety of ways. Queen City Antifa released a communique denouncing the attempts to negotiate, while other organizations simply took down the initial callout for the march to avoid being pegged as organizers. The latter response, coupled with the anonymous comment on Indymedia, illustrated the fear present within the local movement. These early responses to the march would also serve to keep some people away from the protest. Fear was already crippling the march, before it had even begun.
The cops would also take the pre-march repression to an even higher level. Stories were related to us by several supporters and participants in past marches, that they and other homeless youth had been receiving threats from the cops in the week before the march. The police threatened that they would just identify march participants and later arrest or “find them”.
The impacts of the culture of fear permeating throughout the movement would definitely be felt on May 6th.
In a tradition that had been set by marches held on October 22 and January 29, organizers called for a nighttime march. These previous nighttime marches had seemingly allowed for increased militancy and participation. Organizers hoped that this next protest would provide space for yet another militant and participatory confrontation.
As the starting time of the march approached, two banners were unfurled near the intersection of 8th Avenue and Speer Boulevard. “Marvin Booker and Oleg Gidenko: We will never forget or forgive” and “Stop Police Terrorism” were the messages that greeted rush hour motorists.
The crowd that started in the park was noticeably small, and the mood not as festive or empowered as previous marches. Police cars had started to surround and even enter the park. Three squads of riot police had been seen in the parking lot of the nearby hospital. The mood of the participants was far from hopeful. While the march of January 29th had initially mobilized 150 participants and grown to 300 in the streets, this march was starting with barely 50 people.
Speeches were made. Banners and signs were distributed, as well as nearly 4000 stickers with anti-police slogans and pictures of Marvin Booker’s face, although it was unclear at this point whether those stickers would be put to use or if the crowd would even march.
But, despite the police buildup, the rumors and warnings that had circulated beforehand, and the general uneasiness of march organizers and supporters alike, the march entered 8th Avenue, intent on holding the streets.
As the march entered the street, several squad cars pulled up behind the crowd. They slowly followed as the crowd took over 3 lanes of traffic on 8th Avenue, and eventually the police closed the street to all traffic.
Chants of the classic and well worn chant: “Who’s Streets? Our Streets”, filled the air. The march proceeded to Santa Fe Drive, where hundreds of people were gathered for the monthly First Friday Artwalk.
As the crowd turned onto Santa Fe, we were greeted with a mixture of cheers and jeers. The march blocked all lanes of traffic, and hundreds of fliers were distributed, while the stickers started to hit every surface that could be found.
Police started to form lines blocking off side streets, armed with AR-15s and shotguns, presumably loaded with non-lethal ammunition. This was a huge change from previous marches, where police rarely exited their vehicles.
The march doubled in size at it moved down Santa Fe, numbering around 100 as it passed 11th Avenue. Shortly thereafter, the police presence noticeably increased, with motorcycle and other mobile units starting to direct traffic away from the marchers, and close down sidestreets.
The march took a sudden right turn onto 14th Avenue, turned onto Speer, and shut down one of the major arterial roads of the downtown area. A quick right turn onto Colfax and the march proceeded toward the jail.
During the January 29th march, the crowd had charged the jail, pounding on the windows, pinning a deputy between the door and the door frame, and covering the front windows with stickers of Marvin’s picture. During this latest march, however, the crowd generally kept some distance from the front of the jail. Small groups left the march to put stickers up and bang on the windows, but quickly rejoined the ever tightening march.
Police kept their distance, and the march turned the wrong way onto 13th Avenue, and again took to Speer Boulevard, back toward downtown.
The march weaved through the downtown streets, leaving a path of stickers and overturned construction barrels and other debris in its wake. Squad cars following the march were forced to stop so the debris could be cleared, or take other routes to continue following the march.
The mood of the march participants at this point seemed to be high. The march had so far had no major altercations with police, and had controlled the streets for over an hour without much influence from the police. As the march entered the 16th Street Mall, that mood would quickly change.
The riot police that had been previously seen at Denver Health were waiting for the march at 16th Street. Dozens of riot cops flanked both sides of the march as it proceeded South, back toward the Arts District and Santa Fe Drive.
The 16th Street Pedestrian Mall had been the site of some of the more intense actions during the January 29th march, and the police seemed intent on not allowing another mini-riot to damage the downtown commercial district. The overwhelming police presence was not enough to force the march out of the streets, or even stop some of the more petty vandalism that was occurring, but no one was seemingly interested in trying to re-create the actions of January. (http://queencityantifa.wordpress.com/2011/02/01/we-aint-takin-this-no-mo-the-streets-fill-with-rage-against-the-denver-cops/)
As the march snaked out of the downtown core and back toward the Arts District, more and more police officers started to flank and follow the march. To try to deter this unwanted police presence, the march took an unexpected turn into oncoming traffic on Speer. The move temporarily shook the police escort.
Several blocks down, the cops started to divert traffic off of Speer and again were able to move units alongside of us. The march took another series of quick turns, and started to head back to Santa Fe Drive, where march participants hoped they could disperse into the crowds still present in the Arts District for First Friday.
As the march attempted to turn onto Santa Fe, a line of police blocked the route, and a series of scuffles occurred. The crowd pushed and shoved the cops who responded in kind. A demonstrator was grabbed by police as they tried to dip behind the blocked route, but a person in black bloc clothing yanked them back into the crowd. A scuffle ensued, and the cop received spit to the face as the two demonstrators melded back into the protest. The march had started to become disorganized and had lost many participants since it left downtown. The remnants of the march would be unable to get through the police lines back to the relative safety of the Arts District.
The march proceeded to Kalamath, and with a right turn, headed south. Near the intersection of 11th and Kalamath, a decision was made to disperse. After a hurried countdown, the remaining participants scattered.
During the confusion, a large firework was thrown at police. The explosion was mistaken for tear gas by some, and a panic erupted.
One participant was chased down an alley and tackled by police officers. This is the only participant that we know of who was arrested. The rest of the crowd dispersed into the night, leaving banners and signs littering the street.
The actions of May 6th were obviously not as successful as previous marches. Police were well mobilized and prepared for the march, unlike the previous three mobilizations. Their presence was overwhelming, and at times, they seemed to outnumber those of us in the streets. However, the march took the streets and held them for over two hours. Hundreds of pieces of literature were distributed, thousands of anti-cop stickers were placed on light poles, storefronts, cars, and even light rail trains. Barricades were placed in the streets of downtown. The action happened without any mass arrests or major injuries, despite the worst fears of some organizers and supporters.
This march resembled a more tactical and closed off black bloc than the generalized mob of hooligan youth Denver is used to seeing. A lot of this presumably has to do with the “hard core” of May 6th’s participants, people who were not afraid of police retribution and actively sought to confront the department in the streets regardless of consequence. Banners enclosed most of the demonstration, allowing marchers to stay tight and because of the prevalence of black clad and masked protesters, allowed for groups and individuals to lash out quickly and retreat to the safety of the bloc.
If all this was possible with such a relatively small crowd, what could have been possible with more participants? Could we have broken through that police line on Santa Fe? Could we have been able to effect an unarrest? Could we have seen a repeat of what happened on January 29th but with much more widespread results?
We won’t ever know the answers to those questions, obviously. But for those of us in the streets, we will probably always be wondering.
The fear generated before the march seemed to be a major contributing factor in the lack of numbers. Members of our own movement not only helped the police in spreading this fear, but sometimes even acted on their own in promoting it.
Early on at one point during the march, we passed by a well know punk house in the area. People with “circle-A” patches and beers in their hands waved and smiled. But they didn’t join the march. Was it out of fear? Or was it something deeper? A raised fist from a rooftop ultimately does nothing during a street confrontation, especially when these demonstrations have by and large relied on people along the routes to bolster numbers. It’s also exasperating to think that people that likely share a lot of affinity with many of the demonstration’s participants couldn’t be bothered to show up in the first place, much less drop their beers and join the march as it’s passing their house. The punk’s reaction was not measurably different from most of the gawking yuppies indulging in the art walk or shopping on 16th Street.
Denver has been a city plagued by the effects of the Non-Profit Industrial Complex for years. Struggle has been reduced to a career. “Community organizers” and other activists consistently watch struggles develop, and dare not enter into anything that may jeopardize their cushy non-profit job.
Those of us that have been active within Queen City Antifa have been ridiculed time and again for the value that we place on militancy and confrontation. We have been told many times that people that we think are allies will never come to marches or actions that are confrontational and militant. We’ve been told that we need to have clear demands. We need to be treating this work like an activist campaign.
Our only response to people who make these assertions should be clear. “Then organize something yourself.” If you don’t want to throw down with angry working class folks against the cops, then don’t. But don’t sit on the sidelines and offer nothing. The sad truth is that these marches have become the only game in town outside of small press conferences with members of Marvin’s family and some supporters. No mainstream NGOs or other non-profits are organizing anything that we have been made aware of around this issue that is plaguing our communities. If folks are tired of militant street demos, or think that they have some concrete demands that they want to try to fight for, then we would encourage them to start to actually organize around this critical issue. We’d even show up and support their efforts.
QCAF has never wanted to be the only game in town when it comes to anti-cop organizing. However, that doesn’t mean that we’re willing to pander or water down our politics. We’re pissed off working class folks. We think the rage we bring to these demonstrations is well justified, and that there are no demands that the police can offer us that will actually stop the police terror in our hoods. More oversight, a new police chief, sensitivity training, etc… These things will not stop the daily attacks at the hands of the police.
It’s a strange dichotomy some apparently pro-revolutionary folks in this town have created for themselves, in that in order to attain a mass working class revolutionary movement, the working class must become politically and socially conscious. However, when politicized working class people organize around an issue, their militancy and willing to confront it is shunned by the activist left because of political orientations. Seems awfully self-defeating in our opinion. Just because someone is an “activist” or an “anarchist” does not remove them from the working class.
Until local “activists” and others active within Denver’s Left pick a real side within the class struggle, these contradictions will continue to develop and widen, ultimately weakening any chance of real and fundamental change.
Three days after the march, on Monday morning, Safety Manager Charles Garcia announced that the deputies that murdered Marvin Booker would not face any discipline. On July 11th, it will have been a year since Marvin was beaten to death in Denver’s detention center. After this is posted online, people will be gathering outside the Van Cise-Simonet detention center protesting this result. Further convergences are already in the works.
We are undeterred by recent repression. A Denver pro-insurrectionary blog had it’s account locked presumably for reporting on anti-police activity after a “third party complaint”. The harassment of proletarian and homeless youth will not go unnoticed. With the year anniversary coming up, it is time to organize and continue to build this movement into something that is irrepressible and even more aggressive. We will not lose. We will not let fear stifle our actions because they must be taken. This won’t be over until we are all free from oppression, and through every action we gain experience and knowledge we will wield in the coming confrontations.
To the streets!
Queen City Antifa
May 9th, 2011