Monday, October 10, 2005

Denver's Columbus Day Parade - No Problem (Updated from 10/08)

Ground Zero for Denver's Columbus Day Parade--the earliest established (historically oldest) Columbus Day parade in the country--was 15th and Wazee Streets in lower downtown Denver, right outside the main gate to Coors Field. The revelers came in numbers, as did the protesters, as did the Denver Police Department.

David and hiked from our Northwest Denver home to lower downtown Denver specifically to see the parade and, of course, the antics of the protestors who, over the past decade or more, have attempted to shut this parade down by utilizing intimidation and civil disobedience which usually manifested itself in blocking the parade route with their bodies.

Denver's City Council, however, passed this year a more stringent ordinance that makes it more difficult to avoid successful prosecution pursuant to a charge of blocking or disrupting a legally permitted parade. In past years, charges against the protesters who have disrupted or blocked the parade have never, to my knowledge, resulted in any convictions.

Be that as it may, as soon as David walked into lower downtown, into those steel and stone canyons, we heard the tom-toms and the chants of the protesters who, apparently, had decided to peacefully--if not quietly--walk through lower downtown to Ground Zero. Their gripe, of course, and what their chants reflected is their belief that Columbus initiated genocide against indigenous populations (native Americans) on whatever "new world" soil he happened to trod.

The protestors (on cue and I do believe in consultation with the Denver Police brass who were on the scene and clearly communicating with the protests leaders) breached the street barricades and about twenty folks who wore whiteface masks ran to the middle of the intersection. They screamed bloody murder and moaned and groaned as they writhed in the middle of the street. They then dropped down and quietly lay prone on the asphalt. It was great street theater symbolizing, of course, the claimed acts of genocide by Columbus.

As the catcalls from the protesters on one side of the street were answered by mostly elderly white-haired Italian women on the other side of the street, the Denver Police Department continued to shift their significant presence around the immediate area, giving all spectators and observers, protestors and parade participants alike a pretty good understanding that if the shit was going to hit the fan, they were their with significant strength to handle it. They even brought the SWAT Team into the intersection, but without helmets or riot sticks.

During all this time, the police brass seemed to be in continual communication with the leaders of the protest. Good move on both of their parts.

When the parade participants were nearing Ground Zero, the Denver Police Department gave more than ample notice through a bullhorn three times that the folks writhing on the asphalt in the middle of the intersection were in violation of the law and if they didn't move they would be arrested. At that point, the street theater continued, as a contingent of protestors brought backboards (the emergency type boards that accident victims are placed on) into the middle of the intersection and began carrying the moaning, screaming bodies out of the middle of the intersection. The protestors then dumped what appeared to be watered down red paint across the middle of the intersection where the Italians would be marching.

Once everyone was out of the middle of the intersection, a Denver Fire Pumper pulled into the intersection and hosed down the fake blood that had been spread over the street. Once again, there seemed to be a very obvious coordination of all of the protestor's actions with the police; that is to say, the cops knew in advance what was going to happen. Or, maybe better said, the cops knew in advance what the protests leaders had told them was going to happen.

So, the Italians reach Ground Zero, the protesters hoot and holler, the cops stand ready, I take pictures and, well... All's well that ends well.

I hope you enjoy the pictures. And, I do believe all sides of this annual event: the cops, the protestors, the Italians, the observers acted wisely and carefully. Yes, it is a very, very costly event given all the barricade rental, police and fire overtime. But, what is the price of assuring First Amendment rights to everyone. Mayor Hickenlooper seemed to think he could dicker a bit with the First Amendment rights of both sides of this annual event. He quickly found out he was wrong.

Maybe the Hick will butt-out next time.

p.s. Also marching with the Italians, were contingents from the Libertarian Party, Cowboys of Color and (this might have struck some protestors as a little ironic) an Inca or Aztec dance troop.

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