Colo. Springs police disperse March 26 anti-imperialism rally because it was easier than listening to socialists
COLORADO SPRINGS, CO- Local socialists assembled at City Hall on Sunday to “March Against Imperialism”. After a brief march and an half-hour rally while encircled by CSPD, the socialists were informed they were “free to carry on with their assembly” but whoever lingered would be issued a citation for having been in the street. Making no distinction for who had and who hadn’t, the police began handcuffing participants and the couple dozen others quickly dispersed. Five socialists were issued citations for “pedestrian in the highway” and “failure to disperse” while another was arrested and detained for failing to show an ID while filming the police. That person was taken to the downtown police station and held until officers finally informed her of the charges for which she was being cited, after which she identified herself. Throughout her detainment, multiple officers kept up a harassment of questions, refusing her requests that she contact her lawyer. CSPD never issued an order to disperse, a fact that is borne out by witness video. But in effect that is what the officers accomplished. They threatened the legal assembly with citations, for failure to disperse!
It made a funny scene. Around thirty self-declared socialists, blockaded by eight sometimes more CSPD cruisers, in a standoff that lasted until the police lost their patience. Socialists spoke against imperialism, the police officers being their main audience that quiet Sunday downtown. Immediately as the march had ended the police had announced that anyone stepping back into the street would be arrested, and so no one did. But a half-hour of speeches proved too much for the officers to bear and so they interjected again, this time to discuss the problem they had with what had happened earlier. We told those officers they were of course free to discuss such matters individually with whoever they considered a person of interest, BUT AFTERWARD, because they were otherwise interrupting our legal assembly. But the officers persisted in their interruption, deciding after the fact what charges to bring, regardless that they’d forgotten to provide the evidence to back them up. “See you in court” they laughed! We’ve heard that before.
On a serious note. What happened Sunday could have a chilling effect on the nascent kick-ass Colorado Springs Socialists. Unwarranted police attention is an unhappy tradition for socialist organizers, from anarchists to trade unions. Sunday’s denouement confirms all their parents’ worst worries, the folly of declaring yourself to be a socialist in a regressive backwater like Colorado Springs. People were arrested? Handcuffed?! Now you’re on a police watch list! I remember my father’s alarm when he learned his college sophmore had a subscription to Mother Jones Magazine.
Fun as it was, Sunday’s event was essentially uneventful: no altercations, no property damage, not even rhetoric to threaten infrastructure. Minus any media attention, or much of an audience at all on a sleepy Sunday evening, these socialists were determined to parade their dissent where and how those around could see, and reaped more law enforcement than the circumstances required.
While you might say the outcome was predictable, it needn’t have been. Students from the wealthier Colorado College have free range on downtown streets, protesting racism or election outcomes on the street without arrests or citations. Every full moon CC students ride the length of downtown’s main street on bike, skate or skateboard, without even police escort. Sunday’s fledgeling socialist organization is a student club of the UCCS campus. UCCS is more working class, for many a commuter campus, and obviously isn’t shown any deference by city administrators.
Compared to the liberal arts curriculum of Colorado College. UCCS is considered more conservative. UCCS hosts business and military related classes. It even has a Brazil-esque Department of Homeland Security -um- Department. So I think it’s all the more admirable that UCCS has spawned a bonafide socialist group that dwarfs even their school’s Young Republican franchise. I’ve no doubt those socialists I met on Sunday will not be cowed by CSPD’s preemptive aggressions. Hopefully their more timid members will take heart.
Public protests are regularly given use of the streets, which like parks are considered traditional free speech zones. The Tea Party and Occupy took to the streets of Colorado Springs without incurring arrests. More recently people have marched for Black Lives Matter and for solidarity with Native Americans fighting oil pipelines. These have produced zero arrests.
In the meantime it will be important to debrief on what happened and unify the legal strategies. All defendants face the traffic offense of being a pedestrian on the highway [sic] and the misdemeanor of failure to disperse, no doubt tacked on to be a droppable charge as fodder for plea bargains. The recalcitrant videographer faces an added charge of misdemeanor interference for failing to produce her ID. They give her no extra credit for providing a pretext for interrogation because she wouldn’t say zilch without a lawyer present, except to explain where and when they were violating her rights. It used to be that cops had to read us our rights.
Police can issue all the tickets they want when there’s probable cause. They can’t threaten to issue tickets for the solitary purpose of disbanding a legal assembly. In the end, the only socialists who got citations were punished not for being in the street but for standing their ground in front of City Hall.