A large group of peaceful protesters shut down rush hour traffic on a portion of U.S. 36 in Boulder Monday night to demonstrate their outrage and demand systematic reforms after a pair of recent cases in which white police officers were not indicted after killing unarmed black men.
The protest began at about 5:30 p.m. in the intersection of 28th Street and Colorado Avenue and included between 150 and 225 participants at its peak, according to estimates from Boulder police officers on the scene.
Chanting slogans including “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now! If we don’t get it, shut it down!” and “Whose streets? Our Streets!,” the protesters marched down 28th and onto U.S. 36.
Weaving back and forth across the highway dividers to ensure both Denver- and Boulder-bound traffic would be impacted, the group eventually came to a stop in the Denver-bound lanes just past Baseline Road. There they laid down in silence for 4.5 minutes, staging a “die-in” during which each minute signified an hour that the body of Michael Brown, the 18-year-old, black resident of Ferguson, Mo. who was killed by white police officer following a confrontation that did not lead to the filing of charges, lay on the sidewalk of the heavily African American St. Louis suburb in a case that has ignited protests nationwide.
The white officer who shot Brown, Darren Wilson, was not indicted in the case after a grand jury found he was acting in self defense.
Protesters also chanted slogans related to the recent non-indictment of a New York City police officer in the chokehold death of black man, Eric Garner. Neither Brown nor Garner were carrying weapons at the time of their deaths.
Protestors including Jered Bell, center, marches against recent police violence down U.S. 36 in Boulder and enact a die-in blocking traffic on Monday
Protestors including Jered Bell, center, marches against recent police violence down U.S. 36 in Boulder and enact a die-in blocking traffic on Monday evening. Photos by Jeremy Papasso / The Boulder Daily Camera (Jeremy Papasso)
The Boulder protesters, who joined groups across the country that have staged similar events in the last few weeks as well as Boulder groups that have protested the part two weekends, rose from their die-in to read a list of demands. The goal of the major highway disruption, as outlined in a flyer distributed by protesters, was to hammer home that “institutional racism and police brutality are no longer acceptable.”
“Due process is upheld and those accused are assessed by a jury of their peers,” the event’s chief organizer, Kevin Recinos, yelled into a megaphone, the rest of the group repeating the demands in unison. “We want an end to all forms of discrimination and the full recognition of human rights for people of color in Boulder.”
The demands also included the “de-militarization” of local law enforcement nationwide, and a Congressional hearing on the “criminalization of communities of color, racial profiling, police abuses and torture by law enforcement.”
From there, the protesters rose and marched back into Boulder, eventually disrupting traffic that had not been entirely blocked off by police on Arapahoe Avenue, as they marched west from 28th Street to Naropa University where a program examining race and privilege in America was held.
Throughout it all, the police were omnipresent but kept their distance, with little to no direct interaction between officers and protesters.
Despite suggestions by Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle earlier in the day that a large scale shut-down of U.S. 36 could possibly result in arrests, the use of force or even deployment of tear gas, the most visible contact between police and protesters was officers in cars and on motorcycles that followed behind the marching group and occasionally passed alongside it.
Boulder police spokeswoman Kim Kobel said that no arrests were made in connection with the protests. She thanked the Boulder County Sheriff Office, University of Colorado Police Department and Colorado State Patrol, which enforced a closure of Boulder-bound U.S. 36 southeast of Table Mesa Drive, for their work during the event.
“From our perspective tonight was a success because no one got hurt and they were able to exercise their right to free speech and everyone is safe,” she said.
The event did draw three or four counter protesters who followed along through the “die-in.” Two of them bore signs that read “Support Police” and “Evidence Doesn’t Lie.”
As protesters marched back into Boulder after reading their demands they happened upon some cars that were on the wrong side of police road closures and eventually interacted with many occupied vehicles along Arapahoe Road. Some drivers honked or shouted in anger while others showed support by putting their hands up, the visual representation of the “Hands up, don’t shoot” refrain that has swept the country in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting.
When asked why it was necessary to disrupt traffic, protester Woodson Greer said the focus was on raising awareness, which sometimes cannot be done in a polite way.
“You could put up flyers, but not everyone reads flyers,” said Greer, an African American CU-Boulder student from Los Angeles. “When you inconvenience people a little bit it allows them to open their eyes a bit and not ignore it. A 5-minute, 10-minute detour on your drive is worth the equality we’re fighting for.”
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