It’s Sunday July 19, 2020. I’m standing under the shade of a tree next to the Colorado capital building. A fence with black netting has been erected since my last visit. Faded graffiti still adorns the capital walls. Near by a pedestal holds the empty space once filled by a toppled statue.
All around us are people clad in masks. With me is a friend who offered only to bike with me to the counter-protest meeting location. They are conflicted with the idea that All Cops Are Bastards. They are unsure if they want to participate in a counter-protest against the pro-police crowd.
The organizers, from their pickup truck stage, begin to speak. We chant, different leaders take the mic and explain the context. How could anyone think it was okay to hold a pro-police rally in a time like this? They say. Something in their words holds my friend’s attention, they will end up joining the counter-protest.
We begin the short march down the street, past the homeless encampment, to Civic Center Park amphitheater. There was a cacophony of noisemakers, clanging pots, whistles, and blow horns. The throngs of counter-protesters engulf the east and south sides of the amphitheater.
Men with flags attempt to block the east entrance to no avail. We ride around to the north entrance and watch as scared and upset people leave the area. On stage is a band flanked on the east and south by sign wielding interlopers. The rush of noise pushes the pro-police crowd to the west. There are many flags, American flags, Thin Blue Line flags, and Trump flags.
Knots of conflict and jeering form here and there. Everyone is yelling over the static noise, their meaning lost in the chaos. I see at least 3 thick necked men retreat from the amphitheater’s bowl with blood streaking down their face. The police in military gear form barriers between counter-protesters but it is a milieu. There is anger rising up from the pro police crowd and I sense these emotions are being pushed deep down into a secret place. Their faces red, their eyes wide. Their fantastic ideas about ANTIFA flashing through their heads.
The chaos finds a steady state. The counter-protesters slowly ooze west, weaving between those who wish to stand their ground. They are out numbered 3 or more to 1. The police, for their part, are restrained but it is clear who’s team they are on.
There is absurdity to this. It’s peaceful with spits of violence. It has been nearly an hour in the hot sun. The counter-protesters clearly have the stamina. Those who chose to stay are in an impossible predicament. More so once the chant “racists go home” becomes the sustaining rhythm. If they leave they lose, but there is nothing to be gained by staying, if they leave then they are the racists going home. It’s been clear from the beginning that the counter demonstration won the day. They broke up the event.
Now they are just pushing the last of them out.
After an hour and a half, my friend leaves. I walk around behind the pro-police people and watch them. Little groups of men talk, onlookers look on, and I sense an attempt in most of these people to spin this in their head not as a retreat but as something else. They try on expressions and attitudes that look like amused detachment. A growing sense of “so what”. Each finding the emotional key that will allow them to walk away with their ego intact.
And they leave, one by one. The police march out with them and climb onto the sides and into their trucks. One officer looses his cool and maces a group passing by me. I calmly endure the burning and try to cough and heave as gently as I can. Every violent, angry outburst a little win for those jeering them on.
As the police vehicles leave with militarized men hanging from the side the victors follow them changing “move bitch, get out the way”.
It strikes me later that just 30, maybe 20, even 10 years ago the police would have beat the shit out of the counter-protesters with the older whites cheering them on. This must point to something, some progress. The invisible armor these people wore was forged over many years of much more brutal struggle. To those who thought they could just celebrate the police unmolested, it is also a loss, the erosion of privilege.
Something else I noticed, the people I marched with were so varied. All colors of skin and hair, queers, punks, anarchists, “normal”, young and old folks. They looked like America.
I can see why these old white folks are afraid. They see the balance of power shifting and they must fear that we will treat them like they have treated everyone who has been different from them.
For all their rage and guns and the police who stand to protect them, they were impotent and ultimately had to just walk away.