Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said Tuesday that violence during recent nightly protests in Denver overshadowed demonstrators’ “righteous” message, but he rebuked calls by President Donald Trump and others to activate the military to put down civil unrest in cities across the country.
“This is not China. This is not Tiananmen Square. And that’s not leadership,” Polis said early in an afternoon briefing on the coronavirus pandemic. “That’s just creating more of the very division that we need to prevent and heal from and bridge. To create real systemic change, we all need to come together.”
Polis said he would support reform efforts to address racial inequity in police treatment and other racial-justice issues highlighted by protesters. He mentioned a handful of ideas that have been discussed but didn’t specify any he’d get behind. Some state lawmakers Tuesday afternoon unveiled a proposed bill to address police brutality and accountability.
“We need to keep the focus on the task at hand,” Polis said, “and it’s unfortunate that the destruction of property that has been committed by those who have turned to violence has distracted from the righteous message — the pure message of justice and equality and reform.”
The comments, made inside the governor’s mansion, were Polis’s most extensive since the death a week ago of Minneapolis man George Floyd at the hands of local police. His death resulted in charges including murder against one police officer, and it’s sparked protests and nightly demonstrations in cities across the country, with some turning violent or resulting in looting.
Denver’s protests, which began Thursday evening, also have focused on local incidents in which African American or Latino people died in confrontations with police or while in custody.
Polis expressed concern about the potential spread of coronavirus during the protests, as thousands of people have gathered closely together.
Downtown Denver drew large crowds of demonstrators for the fifth day Monday, from the afternoon into late evening, and it was the third night with a citywide curfew in effect.
After nightly clashes between police and protesters — and questions about the aggressiveness of the Denver Police Department’s tactics — Monday brought calmer relations. Police largely kept a greater distance from demonstrations, and some protesters admonished others against vandalism and violence.
About midnight, though, police used tear gas and other measures to clear the dwindling crowd near the Colorado Capitol.
Polis has been joined by Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, both fellow Democrats, in criticizing Trump’s comments about potentially activating the military to quell violence. In a statement Tuesday, Weiser suggested the move would be an abuse of power.
“If necessary, as we have before, the state of Colorado is prepared to take the federal government to court to defend our sovereignty and the rule of law,” Weiser said.
Over the weekend, Polis activated the Colorado National Guard to help restore order. But Saturday and Sunday nights brought the most violent clashes on Denver’s streets, with police saying that officers sometimes were provoked by bottles and rocks thrown at them.
“We can’t allow the bad actions of a few to overshadow the overwhelming and undeniable message that more action is needed to ensure that every American, including black Americans, can go to watch birds in the park,” Polis said Tuesday. “Or go for a run. Or interact with our criminal justice system without fearing for their lives. … I’m ready, willing and eager to be your partner in that work.”
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