Denver’s mayor is heckled by a crowd riled by Black Lives Matter activists.
Rosie Frazier, left, and Maria Alaniz listen to speeches during the Martin Luther King Jr. Marade on Monday. The march and parade, the only one of its kind in the nation, began in City Park and traveled west on Colfax Avenue to Civic Center. Kenneth D. Lyons, The Denver Post
An event that traditionally serves as a tribute to slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. with spiritual songs, sermons, poems and children’ s performances transformed Monday into a raucous, unplanned takeover of Denver’ s annual Marade by the Black Lives Matter movement.
“We did not ask permission. We did not get permits. We were not invited,” said Amy Brown, who spoke fromthe stage at Civic Center park after commandeering the microphone in front of a roaring crowd.
The takeover provided an unusual scene as a mostly black audience heck led Mayor Michael Hancock as he tried to address accusations that he was afraid to speak before the riled- up crowd.
“One thing I’ve never done is turn my back on this city,” Hancock said as the crowd jeered and chanted as he tried to speak.
The annual Marade began with its usual speeches by the mayor and corporate sponsors before leaving City Park and marching along Col fax Avenue to Civic Center.
The Black Lives Matter 5280 group moved in front of the annual march, walking several hundred yards ahead of the Marade’s main body, which included tens of thousands of people.
They carried a banner with the names Marvin Booker and Michael Marshall, black men who died while being restrained by deputies at Denver’s Downtown Detention Center.
As thousands assembled for the closing ceremony, four American Indians in traditional dress moved to a loud, steady drumbeat in front of the amphitheater. Representatives from Black Lives Matter already were on the amphitheater’s steps and standing in front of amicrophone.
And when a Marade organizer announced the program was ready to begin, the dancers kept going.
“We want to do this together,” said Suzy Chip man of the Colorado Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Commission, which organize s the event.
A crowd of thousands jeered as she repeatedly asked the drumming and dancing to stop. She promised to let representatives from Black Lives Matter speak.
The crowd simmered down, allowing four female singers to perform.
Brown took the mirophone to call for the release of video of Marshall’s death at the Downtown Detention Center, more affordable housing in the city and a name change for the Stapleton community because of its namesake, Benjamin Stapleton, a former Denver
mayor who belonged to the Ku Klux Klan.
She yelled, “For those who refuse to lead ... ” And the crowd responded, “We refuse to follow.”
The crowd was particularly upset about Marshall, who choked on his vomit in November while being restrained by deputies.
Video cameras inside the jail recorded the incident, but Denver officials have refused demands to release the video.
“Release the tapes! Release the tapes!” the crowd chanted as Hancock went to the stage.
Hancock tried to talk over the jeers as he welcomed the dissenters to the event.
“Yes, it’s about Michael Marshall,” Hancock said. “It’s about everyone who lost their lives. It’s about Paul Castaway, and it’s about the police officers who protect us. It’s about dignity.”
Castaway was an American Indian who was shot and killed by police in July after his mother called for help as he was having a schizophrenic episode. His mother, Lynn Eagle Feather, addressed the crowd along with Natalia Marshall, the niece of Michael Marshall.
Denver’s takeover was part of a national Black Lives Matter effort to reclaim the Martin Luther King holiday from politicians and corporations, Brown said.
While the protesters “stand in the shadow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., they also stand to reclaim truth and to reclaim that black lives do matter,” she said.
While the takeover was unexpected, the organizers of Denver’s traditional MLK festivities handled it in stride.
Vern L. Howard, the MLK commission chairman, praised host Kyle Speller, the voice of the Denver Nuggets, for “keeping the program moving under hijackings.”
Throughout the event, other Black Lives Matter representatives were allowed to speak. And their actions often were acknowledged by those who were part of the formal program.
Bishop Acen Phillips, a fixture in Denver’s civil rights scene, directly addressed the protesters’ actions saying, “if Mayor Hancock is wrong, tell him he’s wrong. But never disrespect him,” and that “if he takes a walk and nobody follows, he’s just taking a walk. He can’t lead if we don’t follow.”
But Phillips said the oldschool civil rights activists need the energy found in the younger Black Lives Matter movement as he urged them to heed the advice of the older generation.
“We won’t make it unless we make it together,” he said. “We have to walk together.”
The whole scene was a twist to the normally laidback event, said LaTonya Stephenson, a Denver resident who attended with two daughters and a niece.
“It looked like Michael Hancock didn’t want to speak,” she said. “It seemed like Black Lives Matter had a lot of support. Last year wasn’t like that. I was just listening, but it was kind of awkward. I understand everybody’s point of view.”
Chipman said the organizing committee would meet with Black Lives Matter 5280 before next year’s Marade.
“The people wanted to be heard,” she said. “They didn’t know they could have been a part of the program if they had reached out. They just showed up, but that’s OK. That’s what this is about.”
Marchers participate in the Martin Luther King Jr. Marade onMonday. The parade began in City Park and traveled west on Colfax Avenue to Civic Center. Kenneth D. Lyons, The Denver Post