A small group of protestors marched in downtown Denver on July 13, 2020, to protest the city’s city’s continuous clearing of homeless encampments. Law enforcement officers blocked off the streets to protesters, and would not allow them to continue walking on the sidewalk. (Moe Clark/Colorado Newsline)
As baseball fans flocked to Denver on Tuesday for the MLB All-Star game, a crowd of homeless advocates and people experiencing homelessness gathered at a nearby park to protest the city’s continuous clearing of homeless encampments.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock has denied that the city’s recent increase in homeless sweeps are related to the historic baseball game that dropped Colorado into the national spotlight. But homeless advocates, people experiencing homelessness, and city data have said otherwise. There have been 122 formal homeless sweeps conducted by the city since January 2020 — the highest concentration of which have occurred in June, according to a data analysis from Denverite.
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The event, called “Stop the Sweeps: Support basic needs not All-Star tourism,” began around 3 p.m. on Tuesday at Denver’s oldest park, Mestizo-Curtis Park. Around 60 people gathered in a loose circle, surrounded by tents with the words “Housing For All” and “Stop the Sweeps” painted on their exterior. After listening to the speeches, the group planned to march to Coors Field, where the All-Star Game was being played, but were stopped by police and redirected multiple times during their route.
People who have died while living outdoors mourned
At the park, people took turns sharing stories about friends and loved ones who have died while living on the streets. Housed residents talked about how the sweeps make it difficult, and somewhat impossible, to stay connected and continue to support people experiencing homelessness. Many of the speakers talked about the harm Denver’s 2012 urban camping ban has had on poor people throughout the city.
John Staughton, a Denver-based writer and photographer who is part of the advocacy group From Allies to Abolitionists, says he’s been present for all homeless sweeps in order to document how the sweeps unfold. The organization is releasing a new documentary in the coming weeks related to the city’s enforcement of the camping ban.
“I’ve documented every police officer there, every (environmental, health and safety) worker that’s there, every line of fencing that is there, and a lot of other folks in this crowd have been at every sweep as well,” Staughton said into the microphone. “We’ve seen that trauma, and we’ve seen that violence on a weekly basis.”
I've documented every police officer there, every (Environmental, Health & Safety) worker that’s there, every line of fencing that is there, and a lot of other folks in this crowd have been at every sweep as well. We've seen that trauma, and we've seen that violence on a weekly basis.
– John Staughton, a writer and photographer who is part of the advocacy organization Allies to Abolitionist
During the gathering, Kenny White shared his experience living on the streets for five years. He’s disappointed and angry that the homeless sweeps that traumatized him years ago have only gotten worse.
“This has been going on for so long,” White said, who has been housed since 2017. “This has to stop.”
White remembers vividly when a police officer ripped his sleeping bag off of him while he was asleep before telling him to “move along.” He said the people who would come and check up on him while he was experiencing homelessness keep him going through some of the “darkest days” of his life.
He said he was constantly harassed by the police for being both homeless and Black.
“It was a daily occurrence,” he added. “You know, I’m trying to build myself back up, trying to find a place where I can shower, get some food, get something to eat so I can get a job so I can be a productive member of society,” White said.
“Some of y’all know me for being a bit more hype, but there’s no hype to this situation,” he told the crowd gathered at the event. “This is downright depressing. F*** the person, the people, the city who kicks someone when they are down.”
Protestors met with heavy police presence
The plan was for participants to march to Coors Field for higher visibility during the MLB All-Star Game. But a line of Denver police officers barred the protesters from doing so at multiple cross streets, citing “traffic safety.” On numerous occasions, Denver officers let residents pass through the blockade, but not those who were participating in the protest.
At the corner of 26th and Larimer streets, police officers, armed with pepper ball guns and batons, formed a line blocking off 26th Street. “Please move east for traffic safety,” one officer, who would not identify himself, repeated over a megaphone.
Colorado Newsline made multiple interview requests to the Denver Police Department for more information on Tuesday and Wednesday. The department requested written questions in advance, which Newsline declined to do.
“We refer you to the statement, that’s all we’re able to say at this point other than we’re reviewing it,” said Christine Downs, a police spokeswoman.
“The Denver Police Department was aware of the different demonstrations near Coors Field yesterday, one of which involved marching in the streets,” the department’s statement said. “As the march approached Coors Field, during a time of heavy vehicular traffic flow into the area, officers worked to reroute the marchers due to a concern for pedestrian and motorist safety.”
A small pro-Trump protest was allowed to ensue outside Coors Field on Tuesday night, where a handful of folks were seen holding signs challenging the 2020 presidential election, according to CPR.
The protestors were told during their first encounter with the line of police officers that they couldn’t block the street, but they could walk on the sidewalk. But when Kelsang Virya, a 65-year-old Buddhist nun, tried to do so, she was dragged back by two officers. Part of the interaction was caught on video and posted to Twitter.
“I fell down on the sidewalk, and it’s one of those things where, I don’t know exactly what happened for a minute there, on the sidewalk,” Virya said, about a half hour after the incident. “I wasn’t unconscious or anything. But I was just scared.”
When she stood back up, she quickly found herself on the ground again. “One of them just threw me down and I fell back and I hit my head.” she said, adding that she does not believe she is injured.
She wants to know why the officer’s responded that way.
“I just wanted to check on them and regroup and bring them back with the rest of (the protesters),” she said. “The reaction was very aggressive and violent. They said that they were stopping us for traffic safety, but there was no traffic.”
“I’m not a scary person. I don’t think I intimidated them,” she added. “I have wrinkles. Like, I’m old … pushing around a Buddhist nun, that’s really low. But better me than someone else. I’m a white, old woman.”
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