For the second day in a row, a peaceful daylong protest Sunday over the death of an unarmed black man was followed by several hundred people marching from downtown Colorado Springs to the police headquarters, where they blocked roads and shouted at officers manning barricades.
They were met, as they were the night before, by a line of police in front of the building holding shields and wearing protective gear. No violence broke out before the crowd dispersed, unlike Saturday, when protesters broke out windows and threw rocks and bottles at police who responded with tear gas and pepper pellets in a skirmish that lasted from 7 p.m. until after midnight.
On Sunday, police handed out business cards to protesters, one of whom gave flowers to Sgt. Olav ChaneyChaney said he lent an empathetic ear to protesters while conveying the message: "We have family to go home to and you do too."
Protesters, too, sought to defuse the situation. One man crossed a police barrier, turned to face the crowd and shouted, "Let's go. At this point it's going to lead to violence. We've made our point. Let's go."
Despite the initial peaceful interaction, protesters later returned to police headquarters, chanting and asking police to "take a knee." As of 10:30 p.m. Sunday, no violence had broken out but police had ordered the crowd to disperse. The crowd remained, and at about midnight, protesters reportedly started throwing objects, including water bottles, forcing officers to push the crowd back, according to Gazette news partner KKTV.
[Watch KKTV's live coverage of Sunday's late night protests here.]
Earlier in the day, Mayor John Suthers commended the protesters for the mostly peaceful demonstrations Saturday, a marked contrast with the chaos in other cities, including Denver, where cars and buildings were torched and stores looted. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock had ordered an 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew through Monday to try to quell the unrest, but Suthers said he didn't see the need in Colorado Springs, fearing it would incite another confrontation.
In an interview, Suthers said the “vast majority” of the estimated 1,000 people who marched in downtown Colorado Springs on Saturday had peacefully exercised their First Amendment rights. However, a smaller, breakaway group of about 200 people clashed with officers on Saturday night, hurling rocks and glass bottles at officers, who took aggressive countermeasures.
“They did use tear gas, and they used rubber bullets,” Suthers said. “In light of threats to persons and property, I think it was appropriate.”
An estimated 38 people were arrested over the course of several hours, many of them on charges of vandalism. Suthers couldn’t say how many were jailed or just issued citations and released.
Windows were smashed at the Police Operations Center, 705 S. Nevada Ave., and at the county courthouse, 270 S. Tejon St. Police were expected to release further details about the arrests on Monday, according to the mayor’s office. Denver reported similar clashes on Saturday night, with more than twice the number of arrests.
Suthers’ comments came as hundreds demonstrated for a second day outside City Hall and marched through downtown Colorado Springs to protest the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day.
Floyd, who was suspected of passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store, died after being pinned to the ground by police officers, one of whom kept his knee on Floyd's neck for 9 minutes while he pleaded for air.
The clashes on Saturday began about 7 p.m., more than an hour after the main demonstration broke up. Witnesses said they were instigated by a breakaway group of protesters who marched to the Police Operations Center at South Nevada Avenue and Rio Grande Street.
According to Suthers, the 200 people who converged on the Police Operations Center appeared to have a different “composition” compared with participants earlier in the day.
Echoing comments by Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, Suthers suggested that outside groups had seized on the protests as cover for a “broader agenda.”
“Whether they’re Antifa or other anarchist types, they just want to create mayhem,” Suthers said. “The particular cause is not much of an issue for them.”
Becca Waterhouse, 29, witnessed the chaos unfold for several hours, capturing photos and videos, some of which she later posted to Instagram.
She described how police used loudspeakers ordering the crowd to disperse after protesters blocked traffic on South Nevada Avenue. In response, some demonstrators began throwing rocks and bottles, leading police to fire dozens of tear-gas canisters, she said.
“My skin felt like it was on fire,” she said. “I fell to my knees. I couldn’t stand up.”
Some people in the crowd had on respirators, and others doused their faces with milk to counteract the gas.
“I did see some people pick up the tear gas canisters and throw them back at police,” Waterhouse said.
With each round of tear gas, the crowd would disperse and fall back, only to assemble again. Police pushed them north, away from the Police Operations Center and ultimately toward the county courthouse several blocks away.
At one point, a protester hit her brother’s car with a bottle, smashing the windshield.
Around midnight, she witnessed a small cadre of unmarked police cars speed down the street with lights on their dashboards, then stop in a coordinated maneuver.
“They all just kind of swerved and parked really quick,” she said. “They yelled, ‘Get on the ground’ and everyone jumped on the ground. They just started cuffing people.”
People at Sunday’s demonstration said they were committed to nonviolence.
Sunday’s daylong protest started about 10 a.m., with several hundred people marching from Wahsatch Avenue and Kiowa Street to City Hall, many carrying signs supporting Black Lives Matter and listing the names of people who died during encounters with police.
Organizers attempted to shutdown the rally around 3:30 p.m., promising to return Monday morning and to continue demonstrating until justice had been done, according to tweets from TV stations.
But hundreds remained in Acacia Park, then marched to City Hall, where they continued to chant Floyd's name and other slogans as passing cars honked their horns in support.
Police remained largely unseen throughout the protests, but barricades had been set up at the Police Operations Center about a mile away.
Among those in attendance Sunday morning was Lawrence Stoker, whose cousin, De’Von Bailey, was fatally shot in the back by Colorado Springs police on Aug. 3, 2019, while fleeing an arrest.
“I think the overall purpose is to get the police not to kill people for no reason,” said Stoker, who was acquitted of charges in the incident that led to Bailey’s death.
Police said they feared Bailey was reaching for a gun, and a pistol was found in the pocket of his shorts. The shooting was later deemed justified by a grand jury convened by 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, and the panel declined to press charges against them. The Bailey shooting led to days of protests in Colorado Springs, with critics lambasting what they saw as unwarranted force against a fleeing suspect.
Stoker, who was with Bailey at the time, said he came to peacefully protest and to honor the memory of Bailey, who was 19.
“We make sure his name is brought up, and that it will never be forgotten.”