How to engage with the police was a prickly topic at Occupy Denver’s general assembly last night.
About 60 to 70 people attended the 7 p.m. meeting at Civic Center Park on Broadway Street. Gathered in a circle in front of Colorado’s capitol building, flanked by a makeshift kitchen – the “thunder dome”– which served free dinner to participants, members of the loose-knit collective, which formed thirteen days ago in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street, aired their views on engaging with the police and other issues.
Dressed in jeans and a black sweater and carrying a loudhailer, a speaker who introduced himself as Hector, a longtime activist, alleged that many community activists in Denver are boycotting Occupy Denver because people have snitched on other activists to the police.
After the death of street preacher Marvin Booker (who died in July last year at the Denver jail after five deputies held him down, administered a choke hold, and tasered him for eight seconds) activists would not feel safe with a pro-police leadership that accepts snitching, he said.
Another speaker, Kim, dismissed the allegations of snitching as based on rumor.
If the occupation begins to threaten the status quo then the role of the police is to stifle dissent, said another member. “If they don’t want to stifle that dissent they will lose their jobs.”
City and state police have communicated with Occupy Denver “regularly and respectfully” and “respect and have no intentions of interfering or interrupting [the] occupation,” according to a post, dated October 4, on the group’s website.
“If this is going to work we have to remember it’s not us against them; this is the time to unite not divide,” quipped another speaker.
According to Occupy Denver’s Eight Rules, “security forces/police should be seen as potential recruits to movement, not as adversaries. Ultimately they are accountable to the people.”
Derik DaSilva, 23, the facilitator for Wednesday evening’s general assembly, said Occupy Denver will meet on Friday to discuss concerns members had raised about police.
People are misinterpreting the difference between cooperating and collaborating with the police. Collaborating means working with them like you’re an agent, he said during an interview after the meeting.
“I feel that the ideal of Occupy Denver, Occupy Wall Street, Occupy everywhere is that we’re not here to snitch – we’re not out here to say ‘oh I like this person but I don’t like this person.’ We are here as a body – the 99 percent,” he said.
Individuals, not the movement, are responsible for issues like snitching, he said.
DaSilva, a junior at Denver’s Metro State College, majoring in theater, wore an orange vest to signify his role as a member of Occupy Denver’s security committee. The committee, made up of about six people, is responsible for responding to emergency situations, he explained.
The general assembly wasn’t all about law enforcement. One member proposed joining with the Denver Zombie Crawl, since zombies are a good metaphor for corporate greed. Representatives from the Colorado chapter of the American Indian Movement and the Transform Columbus Day Alliance also announced their intentions to protest against genocide, Columbus and imperialism this Saturday.
Occupy Wall Street and its offshoots emerged as a statement against corporate greed and economic equality. For Jon Martinez, 32, from Colorado Springs, the movement’s ethos is key.
If people knew about how the banks work they’d be appalled, he said during an interview after the meeting.
“They loan out money they don’t even have and charge people interest on it. If you and I did that we’d go to jail,” he said. “These bankers get to do it, at really our expense.”
“The interest on imaginary money is just killing us as a country, it’s killing us individually, it’s eating us alive and keeping us slaves to our jobs,” he said.
Martinez said he studied economics at college and continues to read broadly on the subject. He sees his role in Occupy Denver as one of educating others about why they’re “getting screwed” and offering potential solutions for regaining control of the money supply.
When people are struggling financially it leads to social problems as well, said Sabrina Stevens, 25, a communications consultant and education activist.
“With all these unfair tax cuts and advantages that have been given to corporations, to the one percent at the expense of the 99 percent, we’re seeing this unprecedented attack on public education,” she said.
Stevens, who was wearing a blazer, said she is not anti-capitalist or particularly non-mainstream.
“I happen to agree with this because we have a system that’s set up to benefit the few at the expense of the many, so I feel a responsibility to be here,” she said.