June 27, By Esteban L. Hernandez, Denverite, ACLU – Lawsuit Claims The Use Of Force Violated Protester’s First Amendment Rights.
Denver – The ACLU of Colorado has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Black Lives Matter 5280 and other protesters against the City and County of Denver over police use of force during the protests against racism and police violence that erupted in the city last month after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The complaint alleges the use of force by Denver police, Denver sheriffs and Colorado State Patrol effectively “restricted, frustrated, and deterred” the First Amendment right of protesters in the city. The ACLU said police responded, “repeatedly with an overwhelming and unconstitutional use of force” during protests from May 28 to June 2.
“Plaintiffs have been-and still want to be-part of the movement to protect Black lives,” the complaint reads. “They want to participate in demonstrations against police brutality in the City without fear that law enforcement agents working on behalf of the City will endanger their physical safety and freedom of expression with the unjustified and indiscriminate use of ‘less-lethal’ weapons.” The complaint lists several injuries suffered by protesters who they allege stem from the use of force by Denver police and other law enforcement agencies.
In a statement, the City Attorney’s office said the lawsuit appears similar to one filed by protesters earlier this month that led a federal judge to issue a temporary restraining order against Denver police using chemicals or projectiles. The statement said the city attorney’s office is confident Denver police are in compliance with requirements with the recently-passed police accountability bill.
“Additionally, all complaints received regarding any force used by Denver police officers during the protest activities are currently in the process of being investigated by internal affairs and are also being separately reviewed by the Office of the Independent Monitor,” the statement from the City Attorney’s office read. “Finally, the City is in full compliance with the federal district court judge’s temporary restraining order.”
University of Denver psychology professor Dr. Apryl Alexander, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit and a leader in BLM 5280, participated in demonstrations on May 28. She said she saw cops launching tear gas into protesters without warning.
She later came into close contact with tear gas during the protests while she was standing back from the large crowd near the Capitol. When Alexander tried to run away, more canisters came in her direction from another line of officers, she said.
“I’m still unsure of what happened to provoke the dispersal of the gas,” Alexander said. “If a person was getting aggressive, why not address that one person, especially when police were in riot gear? Why would you expose the public, probably hundreds of people, to these gases?”
Alexander said she has a history of asthma and that her face kept burning a day and a half later from the tear gas. She also decided not to attend any more protests but monitored the activity and response through social media and news coverage.
“I was fearful of returning back out there, especially when I was seeing the increased excessive force,” she said. “Our biggest concern is, going forward, are people going to be safe?”
Local abolitionist and bail fund founder Elisabeth Epps is also a plaintiff. Epps said she was gassed, shot and bruised by projectiles, including one that hit her face and broke a medical-grade respirator mask she used. Another protester, Zach Packard, said he suffered fractured skull and jaw, two fractured discs and bleeding in his brain after he was struck by a projectile and knocked unconscious.
Zack Packard pictured in a photograph as part of a federal lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Colorado against the City and County of Denver for police use of force.
ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein said in a statement that police had “no legitimate basis to assault peaceful protesters”
“The City’s actions, while unconstitutional in any context, are even more pernicious here because the use of this dangerously excessive force specifically targeted peaceful demonstrators who assembled to protest police brutality, particularly law enforcement violence that disproportionality targets Black and Brown people,” Silverstein said in a statement.
Protests in Denver responding to Floyd’s death started on May 28 and turned violent that evening. Denver police used non-lethal munitions like pepper balls, tear gas and pepper spray to disperse protesters. They continued using the munition days later while they were assisted by several other metro-area police and law enforcement departments, who used their own set of non-lethal munitions. .gThe complaint claims the city should be responsible for those additional law enforcement officer’s actions during the protests in Denver.
During a press conference following the first day of protests, police chief Paul Pazen said the use of things like tear gas and pepper balls were a response to people at protests who threw rocks at police. He said officers got involved after protests turned into “destructive, dangerous and criminal behavior,” he said called for police intervention.
Other plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Ashlee Wedgeworth, Amanda Blasingame, Phillip Rothlein Hollis Lyman, Cidney Fisk and Stanford Smith are also plaintiffs. All participated in protests in Denver.
The complaint also alleges the cop’s actions violated the protester’s Fourth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment right to unreasonable seizures and excessive use of force. The lawsuit seeks compensatory damages (basically, money) for violations of constitutional rights for plaintiffs.
The lawsuit was filed in Federal District Court in Denver. It was filed jointly by ACLU attorneys and attorneys from the law firm Arnold & Porter.
Excerpt from Colorado Sun, June 2020
Though, the order is not without loopholes, the Colorado Sun reported. It allows Denver police to use such chemical agents and projectiles “if an on-scene supervisor at the rank of captain or above specifically authorizes such use of force in response to specific acts of violence or destruction of personal property that the supervisor witnessed.”
Judge Jackson’s ruling came right after Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, ordered a 30-day ban on police use of tear gas, Common Dreams reported. Many human rights advocates believe this order should be replicated nationwide.
“The use of tear gas and other crowd control weapons against protesters as they flee up a highway embankment or people peacefully demonstrating on the doorstep of the White House, demonstrates that something has gone seriously wrong with how law enforcement agencies across the country are policing peaceful protests,” Justin Mazzola, deputy director of research at Amnesty International USA, said.
According to Amnesty International, tear gas, which is currently banned in warfare, has been misused by police across the country in several ways including:
- Firing into confined spaces;
- Firing directly at individuals;
- Using excessive quantities;
- Firing at peaceful protests; and
- Firing against groups who may be less able to flee or more susceptible to its effects, such as children, older people and people with disabilities.
The organization went on to equate the abuse of tear gas by police nationwide “in certain situations as amounting to torture or other ill-treatment” and said it to be “so harmful when used incorrectly.”
“Police need to immediately de-escalate relations and stop meeting protestors with violence and excessive force,” Mazzola said. “The use of tear gas, rubber bullets and militarized weapons against peaceful protesters should end immediately.”
So far, we’ve seen a group larger than the entire population of California lose their jobs since March. As the pandemic coverage is swept aside by protests over police brutality and systemic racism, one calculation holds that half of all black adults are now jobless.” A Better Jobs Report Belies America’s Breadlines.
At times, over the past ten days, it seemed impossible to keep up with incidents of riot police behaving poorly, or outright violently, in response to peaceful protests. Greg Doucette has been tracking these moments on Twitter. Loosen up your fingers. You’re gonna be scrolling for awhile.
+ There was one moment in particular that took my breath away. If this happened to a white kid in my neighborhood, the cops would be in jail, the chief would be forced out, and the mayor would be hanging on by a thread. But it wouldn’t happen to a white kid in my neighborhood.
Peter Daou@peterdaou · Jun 4DON’T LOOK AWAY. The cop groped her and when she tried to break away, she was beaten while standing still. THIS IS AN ATTEMPT TO CRUSH DISSENT LIKE A DICTATORSHIPShow this thread4:12 PM · Jun 4, 2020·Twitter for iPhone154 Retweets
+ In addition to protesters, journalists have been the victims of unwarranted attacks and arrests. (Some laugh at Trump’s attacks on the media. Others listen and act accordingly.)
Between protests spilling into the streets across all fifty states and a global pandemic that has killed more than 100,000 Americans, ripping back the veil on the country’s countless inequalities, 2020 has established itself as a year that will long be taught in History and Political Science classes. This might feel like a remixed version of 1968, but there are many differences. The excellent George Packer reflects on the major ones—that start at the top. “The difference between 1968 and 2020 is the difference between a society that failed to solve its biggest problem and a society that no longer has the means to try. A year before his death, King, still insisting on nonviolent resistance, called riots ‘the language of the unheard.’ The phrase implies that someone could be made to hear, and possibly answer. What’s happening today doesn’t feel the same. The protesters aren’t speaking to leaders who might listen, or to a power structure that might yield, except perhaps the structure of white power, which is too vast and diffuse to respond. Congress isn’t preparing a bill to address root causes; Congress no longer even tries to solve problems. No president, least of all this one, could assemble a commission of respected figures from different sectors and parties to study the problem of police brutality and produce a best-selling report with a consensus for fundamental change. A responsible establishment doesn’t exist. Our president is one of the rioters.” The Atlantic: Shouting Into the Institutional Void.
Demonstrators are hammering on a hollowed-out structure, and it very well may collapse.11:10 AM ET
The urban unrest of the mid-to-late 1960s was more intense than the days and nights of protest since George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis policeman. More people died then, more buildings were gutted, more businesses were ransacked. But those years had one advantage over the present. America was coming apart at the seams, but it still had seams. The streets were filled with demonstrators raging against the “system,” but there was still a system to tear down. Its institutions were basically intact. A few leaders, in and outside government, even exercised some moral authority.
In July 1967, immediately after the riots in Newark and Detroit, President Lyndon B. Johnson created a commission to study the causes and prevention of urban unrest. The Kerner Commission—named for its chairman, Governor Otto Kerner Jr. of Illinois—was an emblem of its moment. It didn’t look the way it would today. Just two of the 11 members were black (Roy Wilkins, the leader of the NAACP, and Edward Brooke, a Republican senator from Massachusetts); only one was a woman. The commission was also bipartisan, including a couple of liberal Republicans, a conservative congressman from Ohio with a strong commitment to civil rights, and representatives from business and labor. It reflected a society that was deeply unjust but still in possession of the tools of self-correction.
MORE BY GEORGE PACKER
- We Are Living in a Failed StateGEORGE PACKER
- A Novelist’s Ambition to Define AmericaGEORGE PACKER
- The President Is Winning His War on American InstitutionsGEORGE PACKER
The commission’s report, written by the executive director, David Ginsburg, an establishment liberal lawyer of New Deal vintage, appeared at the end of February 1968. It became an instant million-copy best seller. Its language is bracing by the standards of any era: “What white Americans have never fully understood—but what the Negro can never forget—is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.” The report called for far-reaching policy reforms in housing, employment, education, and policing, to stop the country from becoming “two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.”
It was too much for Johnson, who resented not being credited for his efforts to achieve civil rights and eradicate poverty, and whose presidency had just been engulfed by the Tet Offensive in South Vietnam. He shelved the report. A few weeks later, on the evening of April 4, Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in Memphis. The next night, Johnson—who had just announced that he wouldn’t run for reelection—spoke to a country whose cities were burning from coast to coast. “It is the fiber and the fabric of the republic that’s being tested,” he said. “If we are to have the America that we mean to have, all men of all races, all regions, all religions must stand their ground to deny violence its victory in this sorrowful time, and in all times to come. Last evening, after receiving the terrible news of Dr. King’s death, my heart went out to his family and to his people, especially to the young Americans who I know must sometimes wonder if they are to be denied a fullness of life because of the color of their skin.” To an aide, he was more blunt in assessing the uprising: “What did you expect? I don’t know why we’re surprised. When you put your foot on a man’s neck and hold him down for 300 years, and then you let him up, what’s he going to do? He’s going to knock your block off.”
King’s murder and the riots it sparked propelled Congress to pass, by an overwhelming and bipartisan margin, the decade’s last major piece of civil-rights legislation, the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which enforced fair standards in housing. Johnson signed it on April 11. It was too late. The very best reports, laws, and presidential speeches couldn’t contain the anger in the streets. That year, 1968, was when reform was overwhelmed by radicalization on the left and reaction on the right. We still live in the aftermath. The language and ideas of the Kerner Report have haunted the years since—a reminder of a missed chance.
The difference between 1968 and 2020 is the difference between a society that failed to solve its biggest problem and a society that no longer has the means to try. A year before his death, King, still insisting on nonviolent resistance, called riots “the language of the unheard.” The phrase implies that someone could be made to hear, and possibly answer. What’s happening today doesn’t feel the same. The protesters aren’t speaking to leaders who might listen, or to a power structure that might yield, except perhaps the structure of white power, which is too vast and diffuse to respond. Congress isn’t preparing a bill to address root causes; Congress no longer even tries to solve problems. No president, least of all this one, could assemble a commission of respected figures from different sectors and parties to study the problem of police brutality and produce a best-selling report with a consensus for fundamental change. A responsible establishment doesn’t exist. Our president is one of the rioters.
After half a century of social dissolution, of polarization by class and race and region and politics, there are no functioning institutions or leaders to fail us with their inadequate response to the moment’s urgency. Levers of influence no longer connect to sources of power. Democratic protections—the eyes of a free press, the impartiality of the law, elected officials acting out of conscience or self-interest—have lost public trust. The protesters are railing against a society that isn’t cohesive enough to summon a response. They’re hammering on a hollowed-out structure, and it very well may collapse.
If 2020 were at all like 1968, the president would go on national television and speak as the leader of all Americans to try to calm a rattled country in a tumultuous time. But the Trump administration hasn’t answered the unrest like an embattled democracy trying to reestablish legitimacy. Its reflex is that of an autocracy—a display of strength that actually reveals weakness, emptiness. Trump’s short walk from the White House to St. John’s Episcopal Church had all the trappings of a strongman trying to show that he was still master of the country amid reports that he’d taken refuge in a bunker: the phalanx of armored guards surrounding him as he strutted out of the presidential palace; the tear gas and beatings that cleared his path of demonstrators and journalists; the presence of his daughter, who had come up with the idea, and his top general, wearing combat fatigues as if to signal that the army would defend the regime against the people, and his top justice official, who had given the order to raid the square.
William Barr has reacted to the killing of George Floyd like the head of a secret-police force rather than the attorney general of a democratic republic. His first act was not to order a federal investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department, but—as he’s done before—to rush out ahead of the facts and try to control public opinion, by announcing that the violence following Floyd’s death was the work of left-wing agitators. Streets of the nation’s capital are now blocked by security forces from Barr’s Department of Justice—many from the Federal Bureau of Prisons—wearing uniforms that make them impossible to identify, like paramilitary troops with unknown commanders.
The protests have to be understood in the context of this institutional void. They resemble the spontaneous mass cry of a people suffering under dictatorship more than the organized projection of public opinion aimed at an accountable government. They signify that democratic politics has stopped working. They are both utopian and desperate.
Some public figures—politicians, policy experts, civic leaders—have come forward with proposals for changing the mindset and tactics of the police. Terrence Floyd, the brother of the murdered man, urged protesters to educate themselves and vote. But the overwhelming message of the protests is simply “end racism,” which would be a large step toward ending evil itself. The protesters are demanding an absolute, as if they’ve stopped expecting the state to produce anything that falls a little short. For white protesters—who are joining demonstrations on behalf of black freedom and equality in large numbers for the first time since Selma, Alabama, 55 years ago—this demand means ending an evil that lies within themselves. It would be another sign of a hollow democracy if the main energy in the afterglow of the protests goes into small-group sessions on white privilege rather than a hard push for police reform.
+ On the night after MLK was killed, President Johnson addressed the nation: “It is the fiber and the fabric of the republic that’s being tested. If we are to have the America that we mean to have, all men of all races, all regions, all religions must stand their ground to deny violence its victory in this sorrowful time, and in all times to come. Last evening, after receiving the terrible news of Dr. King’s death, my heart went out to his family and to his people, especially to the young Americans who I know must sometimes wonder if they are to be denied a fullness of life because of the color of their skin.” Here’s Trump today, on George Floyd and the better than expected job numbers: “Hopefully, George is looking down right now and saying this is a great thing happening for our country. A great day for him, a great day for everybody. This is a great day for everybody. This is a great day in terms of equality.”