Election '08: All Dressed Up With No Riot To Go To
So, I was walking down the 16th Street Mall in Denver after (think Fourth Street Mall in Santa Monica, only a little bigger and a little less cheesy), taking in all the civic life, or such as it is in the USA, which consisted of lots of people dining out and taking in street performers and enjoying a balmy summer evening. I had just left the Pepsi Center after a day of Conventioning, thinking a better seat for Michelle Obama's speech would be the couch in my sister's den, and was remarking to myself about how calm the city core appeared and how dissociated folks seemed to be from the history that was in process just a few blocks away.
I'd been hoping for a little something to break up the monotony. I mean, this history was feeling slightly anti-climactic so far. More like a real-estate convention than a movement.
I also couldn't help but notice the incredible show of police force all about. Every block seemed to have a phalanx of cops either on bicycles, motorcycles, horses, huddled around SWAT type vehicles. It seemed much ado about nothing. The police here, anyway, were prepared for something more than the good cheer and sunny smiles that Denver had been greeting this moment with. I asked one of the bicycle cops if they were expecting anything to go down.
"I don't know," he said. "We're just stationed here. There might be something further up north." He was referring to Colfax Avenue where the state capitol building is located and where protests were supposedly permitted. Then, they started to move out. They didn't seem urgent, so I walked further up the mall. I came upon another group of cops and heard one of them on a walkie talkie shout, "Okay, we're moving out."
All of a sudden police from everywhere were urgently moving further up the mall.
My sister was parked on a street corner, waiting to pick me up when it became apparent there was a full-scale mobilization in process.
"I have to follow this," I said and ran after the cops.
I chased the commotion up the street until I reached the point where whatever was going down was going down, at 16th Street and Court, in front of a Sheraton Hotel, if memory serves. There was Starbucks just a little further down the road. I moved towards the action.
Two lines of police in full riot gear, backed by a line of cops on horses were pushing back a crowd of mostly young men and women who were... well, taking pictures and video of them with cell phones and didn't seem to have much more on their agenda than gawking. A strange confrontation if it could be called that.
"Move back, move back," the cops said in unison from under their helmets, which muffled their voices in a kind of Darth Vader way. I kept moving towards the cops for some reason, until it became clear that they meant what they were saying.
They pushed us back to the intersection on the pedestrian mall where things just kind of came to a standstill.
I found an old, hippie-ish looking guy with a hat on that pronounced him to be a National Lawyers Guild Legal Observer. He said his name was Ron Booth and that this wasn't his first convention. It didn't seem like it. I asked what had gone down.
"Oh, some demonstrators, protesters -- activists I prefer to call them, the other words have such negative connotations -- came out of Civic Center Park. Apparently, they were unpermmited."
Booth told me the cops quickly surrounded the "activists" on all sides, leaving whatever passersby, including him, stuck in the middle with them. He was impressed with their speed and efficiency.
I asked if anything confrontational went down. "Oh, there were shouts and suggestions of this being a police state, but as far as anything physical, no."
Booth said, "There was some indiscriminate pepper spraying by the police."
He was detained, which to him meant being prepped for arrest. But Booth, savvy legal observer that he is, knew how to handle the situation. He explained to an officer that he was there legally, had numerous times asked to be allowed to leave and that if they want to get a lawsuit for tear-gassing a law-abiding citizen, he'd be happy to oblige.
"A guy who seemed to be a supervisor came over and asked me if I wanted to go," said Booth.
I asked what the protest was about. "As far as I could tell," said Booth, "it was a group of activists focused on a number of different causes -- global warming, the war, things like that."
I hung around for awhile to see if anything developed, but the police had the whole area cordoned off and weren't much for talking. Before long, TV news arrived and seemed a bit confused and possibly let down by the innocuousness of it all. We couldn't find any police spokesperson to break it down, so I phoned in my ride and made it back to my sister's couch for Michelle Obama's speech. A ticker tape along the bottom of the screen announced that police had pepper sprayed some demonstrators.
Is this the calm before the storm?