"We need defense, but we shouldn't have to be defended from the very people who swore to uphold our laws and our Constitutional rights. They should be its most shining example of Democracy in action, but instead, on that day, the Denver Police behaved like the tight lipped overbearing Nazi brown shirts and red neck strutting Bull Connor wannabes we see caricatured in the movies. This is wrong. It is so fundamentally wrong that when I try to give voice to it, I become tongue-tied with furious outrage. The founders of this country and the authors of its most sacred governing documents are rolling in their graves. I am so ashamed for us--ashamed that we seem unable to maintain the freedoms for which so many have fought and died, and are fighting and dying right now. To limit my freedom and yours dishonors all those patriots who have passed." So writes Kim Sayers
I Want America Back
On March 12, the ACLU in Colorado produced documents proving that Denver Police have been keeping files on protesters, including one that labels a member of the Nobel Peace Prize winning Quaker organization, the American Friends Service Committee, a "criminal extremist."
Denver Hispanic activist Nita Gonzales says that she was assured recently by Denver Manager of Safety Ari Zavaras that no such files on protesters exist. Not only do the files most assuredly exist on March 13, it was found that Denver Police share these files with other police organizations across the country.
Years ago, I was a Cub Scout den mother, and I took the role seriously, trying to instill in the boys a sense of honor, duty, truthfulness, and civic responsibility, just as I had with the girls in my Brownie and Girl Scout troops. One of the boys in my den was Ari Zavaras' son.
But the war on terrorism, you might say: Isn't it necessary to limit our freedoms? Won't it protect us from the evil ones? I don't have anything to worry about, because I don't ever break the law, do I? Maybe, but the files have been in existence since long before September 11 2001, and they are kept on law-abiding American citizens who believe in the First Amendment, not alien extremists.
While Denver Police try to put the spin of harmlessness on the practice by saying that law-abiding citizens have nothing to worry about, my recent personal experience was different. Because of it, I believe there is an aspect of opportunistic fascism to the so-called war on terror that threatens the fabric of freedom.
On the morning of February 8, 2002 a friend and I were harassed with intimidation tactics by Denver police when we assembled peacefully to picket George W. Bush during his short visit to Denver.
Because there was less than 24 hours notice of the visit that occurred on a traditional workday, there were not too many protesters present - only about 50, most of them with a Sierra Club group. My friend and I were not part of any group, but shared a corner across from the Convention Center with a Native American woman, a black man picketing on behalf of renewing the Voter Rights Act, and about a dozen black and Hispanic high school students with a few assorted other protesters.
When people started assembling along 14th Street and Welton for Bush's departure, Denver police forced all of the 50 or so protesters to take a position behind several large white trucks that were parked there. When we started to move further down the street so that we would not have to be hidden behind the trucks, police officers told us to stay on the far side of the sidewalk behind the trucks or we would be arrested.
We were subjected to quite a bit of name-calling by Bush supporters (I recall "f---ing whore" being shouted a couple times by a "gentleman" in a drugstore cowboy outfit) but not once did the police do anything to protect us or control their unruliness. In fact, the police allowed people to line the street in front of us, and in front of the large trucks. Mr. Bush's safety could not have been their issue, since people were allowed to crowd into the streets.
No one among the protesters was defiant, no one was threatening (except the police and Bush supporters), and no one was doing anything except holding their signs in peaceful protest against a wide variety of the policies of the Bush administration. In short, we were doing nothing but attempting to exercise our Constitutional right to dissent and redress grievances. The protesters were described almost derisively in the Rocky Mountain News as being particularly "laid back."
We were willing to accept the fact that our police were doing nothing but behaving like silly self-important schoolyard bully-boys shoving their weight around and decided to drop it at that point. We were not there to cause trouble, but simply to air our views. However, the story did not end with the harassment by police at the Convention Center.
After the Bushes had departed, my friend and I decided to have lunch on the Sixteenth Street Mall. Just two middle aged ladies taking our day off from our regular jobs to do what we view as our patriotic duty and our right to express dissenting views when we believe our government is wrong, and to have a leisurely lunch together.
It was then that the extent of the police intent to intimidate us became apparent. We were followed to the Paramount Café by two officers on horseback. When I petted one of the horses and tried to be friendly, I was met with short, staccato answers and hostile stares. This has not been my experience in the past with mounted officers. When I have talked to them many times over the years, they have always been friendly. Not that day.
I rejoined my friend and told her what had happened, and we tried to laugh it off, wanting to enjoy the sunny warm late morning. Except the officers stayed, obviously to watch us. We moved. They moved. We stayed. They stayed. So we tried to ignore them and just have lunch. They stared at us for approximately 30 minutes, and then they were relieved by a pair of motorcycle officers, who took over for them in staring at us.
It made me regret the many times I have stood up for the Denver area police regarding their conduct at Columbine High School. It made me regret all those times I was friendly to the mounted officers in the past. It made me slightly ashamed for having stood up for America during the time I lived in the UK for a short while. It reminded me of the repressive climate of the McCarthy era, stories of the early days of the Third Reich and Fascist Italy, and the scary stories we heard about life in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. It made me feel like the terrorists had won‹they didn't have to defeat us in war because they had already defeated our freedom. It made me glad I rode the light rail downtown that day, so those intimidating thugs couldn't get my license plate number.
I have had a lot of time to think about that day. I did not want to overreact, but I was left with an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach, and a nagging doubt that kept popping up in my mind at unexpected moments. It was the knowledge and thought that my rights had been violated, and that I have federal and state constitutions that say these things are not supposed to happen to me. The police are supposed to be my servants, and the government is supposed to answer to me, not the other way around. Not in America.
I thought about my father and uncles who were in the Army, Army Air Corps and Navy during World War II, one of whom was a West Point grad and also served in Korea. I thought about my brother who served his country as a Navy pilot for six years during the Vietnam War after his graduation from Annapolis--while George W. Bush was AWOL from his cushy semi-service to the Texas Air National Guard. I thought of my friends who served in Vietnam and during Desert Storm. All of these people put their lives on the line to protect the very freedoms that the Denver Police were trying to take away. Anger started to build within me, startling me by its intensity.
It kept bringing me back to the Constitution and all of the people who died to guarantee that my family and I would be able to speak our minds freely and peacefully without the fear that jackbooted thugs would be making a list and checking it twice. Those officers were not trying to protect and defend us any more than they were looking out for public safety; they were seeking to intimidate us and to exert a chilling effect on our First Amendment rights. They were trying to make it criminal to be an American! This offends me to my very deep American soul, and now it is my patriotic duty speak out against it.
We need defense, but we shouldn't have to be defended from the very people who swore to uphold our laws and our Constitutional rights. They should be its most shining example of Democracy in action, but instead, on that day, the Denver Police behaved like the tight lipped overbearing Nazi brown shirts and red neck strutting Bull Connor wannabes we see caricatured in the movies.
This is wrong. It is so fundamentally wrong that when I try to give voice to it, I become tongue-tied with furious outrage. The founders of this country and the authors of its most sacred governing documents are rolling in their graves. I am so ashamed for us--ashamed that we seem unable to maintain the freedoms for which so many have fought and died, and are fighting and dying right now. To limit my freedom and yours dishonors all those patriots who have passed.
I don't know in the end if the ACLU will be suing the Denver Police Department for their anti-American actions, but I want the world to know I have told them that if they need a witness to these illegal activities, I am ready and willing to testify. Hopefully, the Denver Police Department and Ari Zavarras will come clean about their clandestine activities, and do the honorable thing; that is, to stop using harassing and intimidating storm trooper tactics on law-abiding citizens, and stop classifying them as criminals..
We must reinforce the principle that in Denver and in America, dissent-chilling intimidation and violations of our citizens' Constitutionally-guaranteed rights will not stand. It is our patriotic duty.