Eyewitness Testimony from Police Aggression in Denver: What REALLY Happened
Much of what has been said and written about the police crackdown of Saturday night has been speculation, misinterpretation, patently false, and/or abject lies. For this reason I offer this first hand account of the initial escalation at the park. It should be said that I do not identify as a member of Occupy Denver, nor do I agree with many of its goals, nor its constant self policing and paranoia. I am merely an individual who resides in and loves the city of Denver, a city slipping rapidly into a police state, home of the most brutal police force in the states, who regularly murder and assault members of this community, who are so actively and shamelessly welcomed into Occupy Denver’s “99%”. I do not strictly agree with or adhere to an explicitly nonviolent philosophy, but I am well versed in its principles. To stand by passively and watch one’s friends or community members be brutalized by a pile of state sanctioned maniacs without intervening is not nonviolent. Nor is it violent to attempt to stop such an assault by physically restraining the attacking cop for long enough for the victim to get out of harm’s way. And all over a few tents. You’ve referred to us as violent, as provocateurs, and as agent plants for getting beat up trying to get one another out of the police melee. We’ve been apologized for and called “marginal at best,” simply for dreaming of holding our ground in a public space against a fascist state apparatus. Everyone has their own perspective, their own experience, and their own version of what went down that afternoon; this one is mine. As a witness in the thick of the initial onslaught, what happened was this, this is how things got crazy, and got crazy fast: After an invigorating march through the streets of downtown Denver, during which some took the opportunity to throw a kickass roving dance party, the crowd of over 1000 arrived at the capitol building feeling empowered. Many groups of marchers argued over slogans viewed by some as overly inflammatory, gradually the crowd lost steam, and occupying the capitol steps seemed less and less important as riot cops flooded the scene heavily armed with high powered rifles. Some danced their way down the steps, across the street, and back into the park. After standing around for some time, wondering what comes next, some took the initiative to set up tents on the lawn, the temporary structures having been a potent point of symbolic contention during the weeks-long “occupation”. Moments into the setting up of tents, a mass of over a dozen riot cops, led by a uniformed officer named Henning, approached a young woman dressed in all black setting up a tent. Henning grabbed one end of the tent and pulled, but at the other end of the tent the woman’s wrist became entangled with a tent strap, unable to let go. Henning viewed this as resistance and quickly tackled the woman. Henning and at least two riot cops began applying pain compliance holds and beating the woman with clubs, Henning eventually wrapping a tent around the woman’s head and wrenching back on it. At this point, an individual who appeared to share deep affinity with this woman dove through a line of riot cops and tackled one of the attacking officers in a clear attempt to stop the relentless assault. The intervening individual was maced and beaten, but appeared to have narrowly evaded arrest. Several people attempted to get this woman out of harm’s way, at which point Henning and other officers began to brutalize her more intensely. The crowd was outraged, and at least one other person was on the ground undergoing similar abuse, and the situation continued to escalate. At this point, the DPD unloaded countless clips of rubber bullets and/or pepper spray bullets, and cans of mace into the crowd of shocked onlookers. A few people acted upon a reflex to defend themselves, understandably, albeit mildly, but most concentrated on getting themselves and others out of the line of fire of the rampaging police. Several people were shot in the face with rubber bullets and/or pepper bullets, dozens were maced, one man attempting to video was shot out of a tree, one had his feet or ankles run over by a motorcycle cop while being treated by a medic, and several were restrained and arrested. All of these individuals were rejected by Occupy Denver as violent provocateurs. At this point, perhaps an hour into the initial police drive, the observer had been maced several times and clubbed, and was unable to continue observation. Most of those rejected by the movement in Denver are pooled into the box of the poorly understood label of “anarchist” by a confused and privileged few, who at the same time actively perpetuate a movement originally catalyzed by anarchists, and who unconsciously (attempt to) employ organizational methods like consensus that could, to some degree, be accurately labeled as “anarchist”. Despite this, in Denver, anarchists have unwillingly taken on the role of scapegoat, while simultaneously providing the only legal support infrastructure for Occupy Denver arrestees to date. I remain unamused in the face of such irony. Crackdowns of this variety are occurring from coast to coast, yet in Denver some manage to still view these assaults as a result of provocation, rather than clear and unprovoked aggression of the state. Police continually crackdown against an unruly population which is actively claiming and defining its own rights, rather than acquiescing to those few rights awarded to us for staying in line amid the exploitation of our everyday lives. Many of us fail to see these instances of state aggression as the act of war it is. This depression is not merely a product of greed; it is a worldwide systemic failure. The state understands this, and has been mobilizing its troops. This is not just paranoid rhetoric; political discourse for security (not what they show you on the news, but the academic papers they read and write) has revolved around the transformation of police units into an urban warfare-ready outfit for at least the last decade. One day, this broad scale collapse will affect Denver as much as it affects most other post industrial cities, beyond just the price of a gallon of gas. Sooner or later, the fall of this economic paradigm will reach a critical point of public outrage, and when it does, we’ll take the streets and we’ll keep them. Perhaps it already has. The state is preparing for Civil War, each escalation on their part is further preparation, though what they fail to realize is than in their preparations, they will only trigger the very thing they anticipate. These are the seeds of insurrection. Very few people actually want to be engaged in this kind of conflict, in all honesty this level of police violence is horrifying. What we have to understand, however, is that if we succeed in threatening real systemic change to any extent, they’ll come for us again, harder and harder every time. Who of us will be around until victory?