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Protesters take to streets in Denver demanding justice for George Floyd

Shots fired at Capitol; protesters met with gas, rubber bullets
Denver's George Floyd protest_May 28 2020_Joshua Beckner
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Moira Winder_May 28 2020 protests for justice for George Floyd in Denver
Posted at 6:31 PM, May 28, 2020

DENVER — A shooting that left no reported injuries near the state Capitol in Denver Thursday afternoon kicked off what would be an hours-long protest for justice for George Floyd, a man who died while in the custody of Minnesota police this week, that saw vandalism by protesters and reported tear gas and pepper balls used by Denver police.

Hundreds of people were involved in the protest and march, which started around 5 p.m. at the state Capitol before parts of the group split off and marched to near Coors Field.

Shots fired near Capitol

Denver police confirmed around 6:25 p.m. that shots were fired near Colfax Avenue and 15th Street, right outside the Capitol. Police said they were not sure if the shooting was related to the protest.

Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, told Denver7 in an interview from inside the Capitol Thursday evening that someone fired five or six shots from the RTD bus stop nearby into the crowd.

She said everyone ran while Colorado State Patrol troopers ushered people back inside the Capitol to shelter in place, where they stayed for several hours. The shelter-in-place was lifted 8:15 p.m. Herod said that a bullet hit the Capitol building.

GALLERY: Images from Denver's night of protests demanding justice for George Floyd

"We will continue to make our voices heard and demand justice for Black communities," Herod added in a statement. "We will not be deterred by this unspeakable act of violence.”

Denver police said the investigation into the shooting is ongoing. As of 9:50 p.m., nobody had been arrested in connection to the shooting.

Shortly before 10 p.m., Denver police told Denver7 that they are not sure how many people were injured in the protest. A few officers were injured, but not seriously, police said. There were multiple arrests over the course of the protest, but an exact number was not immediately available.

In a statement late Thursday evening, Colorado House Democrats said they would not convene Friday or Saturday, "to allow space for protests that we expect to continue on Friday and into the weekend."

On Friday morning, Trooper Gary Cutler with the Colorado State Patrol said three windows of the Capitol building were broken and there was graffiti on the side of the building.

Mayor Michael B. Hancock and city officials will hold a press conference at 11 a.m. Friday to address Thursday evening's protests.

Streets closed as protesters make their way across city

Several streets in the downtown Denver area were closed throughout the march and protest.

At 8:23 p.m., Denver police said E. Colfax Avenue had closed in both directions around downtown as protesters moved eastbound from Grant Street. More than two hours later, just before 11 p.m., streets in downtown Denver were back open with the exception of 13th Avenue and Lincoln Street.

Part of the protest crowd moved to near 20th and Blake for a time, while the rest of the crowd marched down Lincoln, up Broadway and then onto I-25, where they shut down traffic.

Protesters block I-25 in Denver during George Floyd protests

Denver police told people to avoid Broadway and Lincoln near the Capitol and I-25 near 15th Street. Roads were closed in both directions shortly after 7 p.m. and after police worked to disperse the crowds that had gathered on I-25, the highway reopened around 8:15 p.m.

Police deployed pepper balls and what are believed to be rubber bullets during the protest near Platte and 16th Street.

One man said he was hit in the right eye by a rubber bullet. Jo Acker reached out to Denver7 and said that man, Michael Acker, is her 20-year-old stepson. She said it was his first protest and one of the first that she and her husband, Gene Acker, have not participated in. Gene said that Michael told him that he had gone to help a woman who had been shot with at least one rubber bullet when he got shot himself.

Gene said the hospital told him that Michael's eyelid was lacerated, so he'd need a CAT scan and MRI tonight.

A Denver7 photojournalist captured video of a woman's car that had been damaged in the crossfire.

The people involved in the protest were carrying signs and shouting, “I can’t breathe,” which Floyd was filmed saying as a police officer maintained pressure on his neck before he died earlier this week.

At one point, a bystander captured video of a car caught in the middle of the protests near the Capitol turning around and hitting a protester before leaving the scene. Around 10 p.m., Denver police told Denver7 that nobody had been arrested in connection to this incident, but they are asking for the person hit to reach out to police so they can help identify the suspect driver.

RAW: Graphic video shows protester run over in Denver

Trooper Cutler said two patrol cars were damaged during the protests. They had broken windows and the sides had been smashed. The vehicles were also spray-painted. One of the vehicles was marked and the was not, Cutler said.

Reaction from Denver officials, Gov. Polis

Around 7:45 p.m. Thursday, Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock released a video statement on Twitter, saying he had just learned that shots were fired near the Capitol.

“Listen, I certainly understand everyone’s frustration and pain and disgust following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis," he says in the video. "But I want to plead to everyone — let’s demonstrate, but let’s demonstrate peacefully. Leave the weapons home and let’s walk, let’s march together in unity and let’s have our voices heard but keep everybody safe. That’s the way we need to do this."

Shortly afterward, Murphy Robinson, executive director of the Department of Public Safety, released a statement saying he is outraged by the events in Minneapolis, but urged those protesting in Denver to march in peace.

"Violence only feeds violence and at its worst, it has the potential to harm innocent people," the statement reads. "The Department of Public Safety stands alongside our residents to ensure our staff act appropriately enforcing the laws of our city. My expectations as the director is that we hold our staff to the highest standards and under my leadership, nothing less will be tolerated. I urge everyone in Denver, both residents and officers, to treat each other with the respect they deserve."

Floyd’s death while in police custody has set off two straight days of protests and rioting in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. On Thursday, Minnesota’s governor called in the National Guard to help stem the rioting from happening again.

Gov. Jared Polis issued a statement Thursday night calling it "a very sad night for our state."

“While we are still uncovering all of the facts about what took place, a protest regarding the killing of George Floyd devolved into vandalism and violence, and I was absolutely shocked by video evidence of a motorist attempting to run over a protestor. Coloradans are better than this. I share the immense anguish we all feel about the unjust murder of George Floyd. But let me be clear, senseless violence will never be healed by more violence,” Polis said in a statement.

“These are extremely difficult times for our state, country, and world. Now more than ever we need to lift each other up and do right by each other. I ask everyone to make their voice heard peacefully and to turn their anger into advocacy and action -- never violence,” the governor added.

Hancock added: “The men and women of the Denver Police Department are not the enemy. For the last three months as we have weathered the storm of this terrible pandemic, they have put their lives at great risk protecting all of us. The road to recovery is before us, and all of us – black, Latino, Asian, white – all of us must recover together. That doesn’t mean we stand silent when injustice occurs – whether in Minneapolis or in Georgia or in our nation’s capital. We do not stand silent. We move, we act, and with respect, we create change – together. More than ever, we need to all pull together, because we can remake this world together, guided by equity and tolerance and justice.”

More protests planned Friday and Saturday

Another rally is planned for noon Friday at the Colorado State Capitol. Trooper Cutler said additional troopers are expected at this rally, and that CSP's main priority is the safety of the individuals at the Capitol.

A solidarity march for justice for Floyd in Boulder will begin at 10:30 a.m on Saturday at Central Park, located at 1739 Broadway. Attendees were told to meet at the Bandshell Amphitheater at 10:30 a.m. The rally will begin at 11 a.m. with a march to North Boulder Park.

A protest in Denver is scheduled for noon at the Capitol on Saturday. In addition, a rally in support of Floyd is planned for 3 p.m. Saturday in front of the MLK Statue in Denver's City Park.