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Protesters calling for a ceasefire in Gaza disrupt Denver City Council, again

City councilman says he was told to die after the council rejected a ceasefire proclamation Monday night
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Posted at 6:14 PM, Feb 13, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-13 20:22:54-05

DENVER — As the war between Israel and Hamas continues in Gaza, the conflict has become a heavy topic of discussion and debate in places one might not expect.

Over the last few months, city councils in Colorado and throughout the country have been considering proclamations regarding the war.

Some of the proclamations express unequivocal support for Israel. Other proclamations are more nuanced and express support for civilians on both sides of the conflict, while also calling for a ceasefire.

In Denver, hundreds of protesters filled the halls of the city-county building Monday night, as council members of Colorado’s largest city considered a ceasefire proclamation of their own.

But the meeting quickly descended into chaos.

“We've been in session for seven months and we've had three of these disruptions,” said Denver City Councilman Darrell Watson, who represents District 9. “Last night was not a demonstration of democracy. It was a demonstration of anarchy. And we can't have that.”

The proclamation would have been sent to national leaders, including members of Colorado’s congressional delegation.

“A ceasefire should not be controversial,” said Abdullah Elagha, an organizer with the Colorado Palestine Coalition. “A ceasefire is the only humanitarian action left to us right now.”

Elagha says he has lost dozens of family members in Gaza over the past four months.

“It's very clear that civilians are the target of this war and this war must end as soon as possible,” said Elagha.

But throughout the night some protesters kept interrupting council members and members of the public who did not support the proclamation.

“The idea that there is only one truth, and you must support or listen to that truth and not allow for differences of opinions, that's the breakdown of our democracy. That's the breakdown of what we were elected to do,” said Watson, a more moderate member of the council who voted against the proclamation.

Protesters calling for a ceasefire in Gaza disrupt Denver City Council, again

He says the behavior of the crowd grew worse as the night went on.

He says not only did he become a target, but so did other voices in the community.

“Someone said I should die,” Watson said. “But my point is folks are saying that against other community members as well.”

As the disruptions continued, the council recessed and moved the meeting online, where they were able to finish their work.

On Tuesday, council members discussed what happened during their weekly mayor-council meeting.

Council members said Monday night’s meeting was the latest example of how politics has become extremely divisive.

“This is not just a Denver thing. This is not just a city thing. The division sowed in our country has been happening over many years,” said Denver City Council President Jamie Torres, who supported the proclamation.

Council members agreed all voices should be heard during meetings.

“I will not be bullied, I will not be silenced,” Watson told Denver7.

Councilwoman Sarah Parady, a progressive member of the council and one of the sponsors of the ceasefire proclamation, says threats are never okay.

"Darrell, you should never experience people threatening you in that way,” Parady said to Watson. “And I'm sorry that happened to you last night in particular.”

But Parady said it’s important for council members, as elected officials who have been given power, to listen to citizens, even if it’s uncomfortable.

"I'm not going to expect that every person that comes into our council chamber is going to be able to speak in a calm and eloquent way. People can't always do that when they're angry and when they're hurting about something,” Parady said.

The Denver City Council rejected the ceasefire proclamation by a vote of 8 to 4.

But Denver wasn’t the only area city council that was disrupted on Monday.

In Lakewood, a man calling into the council meeting remotely during a public comment session launched into an antisemitic tirade.

Several council members walked out of the chamber in disgust.

On Tuesday, the city and mayor issued a statement, condemning the remarks.

“I was horrified to hear the awful and disgusting comments provided during one of our public comment periods. I worked as best I could to curtail this organized effort to disrupt our meeting,” said Lakewood Mayor Wendi Strom. “I will continue to do everything I can to make everyone feel safe in our community and during our meetings while also balancing residents’ ability to provide public comment.”

Ensuring everyone attending meetings feels safe while allowing public comments is a growing challenge for city councils as the war half a world away continues.

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