By COLLEEN SLEVIN
DENVER (AP) — Denver Mayor Michael Hancock called for calm and unity Friday after the first of several planned protests over death turned violent, declaring, “Let not the story be about the riots and protests. Let’s keep the focus on the life that was lost.”
“I can tell you not to go out and demonstrate but the reality is it’s going to happen,” Hancock said at a news briefing, stressing he shared outrage over what he’s called the “senseless and tragic murder” of Floyd, an African American, by white police officers in Minneapolis.
The police officer seen on video kneeling on Floyd’s neck was arrested Friday and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter after three days of often-violent protests in Minneapolis and around the country.
Hancock and Police Chief Paul Pazen blamed what they called a minority of agitators among peaceful protesters for inciting violence throughout downtown on Thursday. That violence included throwing rocks at police officers, setting small fires and damaging cars and businesses, the said. Both commended peaceful protesters and police officers for their restraint.
“We will hold people accountable if they look to hijack people’s pain for their own purposes,” Hancock said.
Pazen said three officers were injured and that 13 people were arrested for burglary, criminal mischief and assault Thursday.
A Friday protest was peaceful and drew several hundred people. Chanting “George Floyd” and “No Justice, No Peace,” protesters marched from the Capitol to the Denver City and County Building . They proceeded along downtown Denver’s pedestrian mall and back to the Capitol, where ground-floor windows were boarded up. Passing motorists honked their support.
Friday’s police presence was barely visible as marchers carried placards reading “Hands Off — Don’t Shoot” and other demands for justice for Floyd. Protesters used bicycles to close intersections to traffic to let the crowd pass. A protest leader on a bullhorn said it was not the time to use violence.
It was a stark difference from Thursday, when hundreds gathered outside the Capitol. Some protesters broke windows and spray-painted graffiti on the building, where a state patrol car and a lawmaker’s truck were heavily damaged. In other areas, police in riot gear fired gas canisters, used rubber bullets and walked in a phalanx through the streets. The protest briefly spilled onto Interstate 25, until police used tear gas to disperse the crowd.
Pazen said police were investigating who fired shots outside the state Capitol that sent people running. It was unclear if protesters were being targeted and no one was arrested, police spokesman Kurt Barnes said. Officers also were investigating numerous other incidents, including one in which a motorist appeared to intentionally strike a protester, Pazen said.
Both the mayor and chief said they supported continued peaceful protests going forward. A large protest has been called for Saturday.
“I am proud that you stand up and want to hold people accountable for these actions,” Hancock said. “When individuals choose the path of violence, however, it drowns out the peaceful paths of change.”
Workers cleaned graffiti off the Capitol’s steps on Friday as the smell of tear gas lingered. A few blocks away, glass from broken windows littered the sidewalk outside a furniture store. Employee Fernando Martinez told KDVR-TV that he found rocks and broken tables inside and smaller items like pillows and a credit card machine gone.
Downtown’s Union Station, a bus and light rail hub, was closed for safety reasons. The Regional Transportation District suspended bus and light rail service into and out of downtown, citing the planned protests.
At the Capitol, the Democratic-led state Legislature suspended its work in anticipation of more protests. Senate Democrats said Friday the suspension was “in deference to the demands for police accountability” while condemning Floyd’s death as “a senseless, gruesome act of police violence.”