Denver is known nationwide for its strict laws on so-called “urban camping”. Many times, they have cracked down on homeless encampments and overnight shelters, drawing national attention since new legislation passed on the issue in 2012.
Footage from the event shows just how far Denver police are willing to go to enforce these laws. Over the years, they have faced heavy criticism.
A Standoff with Occupy Denver for Feeding the Homeless
Sunday morning at around 9:30 AM MDT, Shane Roberson and a group of members from local activist group Occupy Denver set up three tables on the 16th St. Mall and began feeding the homeless.
Less than 20 minutes later, two cop cars arrived on the scene. The officers then instructed the organization to take down the tables. With much protest, organizers began moving the food onto wagons, taking all of the tables down. Roberson, the apparent leader of the event, claimed sole responsibility for the tables. As a result, officers pulled him aside and wrote him a citation.
“I just walked here, I didn’t set up any tables, I was just feeding the homeless.”
Soon after, officers returned to the event and accused others of setting up tables as well, threatening them with citations and arrest. One officer clearly told two elderly women: “You were setting it up, you were setting it up, he was setting it up” before asking the women “do you want to take down the tables, or do you want a citation?” The officer then brought one lady aside. She proceeded to defend herself, saying “I just walked here, I didn’t set up any tables, I was just feeding the homeless.”
The Officer Calls for Backup
Roberson then went up to the officers, reasserting his claim that the tables were his and only his responsibility. The officers ignored him, walking back to their car and using their radios to call for backup. Shortly after, another cop car showed up, then another, then another.
By this time, all tables were down and Occupy Denver was serving food from the ground and from wagons. Roberson then approached the officers, asking whether there was still a problem now that the tables weren’t up. The officer responded, “potentially,” giving no signal as to whether or not there was still an issue. When Roberson pressed the officer for a more decisive answer, the officer stood by his vague answer, stating “you asked, a question, right, and I gave you an answer. But you didn’t like the answer,” before asserting that “potentially means… potentially” with a shrug of his shoulders.
Moments later, after a continual argument with Roberson, the officer received a call, spoke for a few moments, and then reentered his car and left the scene. The four other cop cars soon followed the cop.
Interview with Shane Roberson
Shortly after the event, 71R contributor Max Bibeau conducted a brief interview with Shane Roberson of Occupy Denver. Below the video is a transcript of the interview.
MB: Can you summarize what happened here this morning?
SR: Yeah, so we came out here with Occupy Denver to feed homeless people. The people next door, Corner Bakery, they’re basically against the urban camping ban and some of that includes how homeless people can be arrested for even taking off their jacket and covering up with it in a public place. So we came out here to feed our people, to celebrate humanity, you know we have to remember all life is important, and that’s what we’re doing here today.
MB: Did you expect to have issues with cops here today?
SR: No. I think cops need to take a hard look at themselves and realize that when a group or community is doing something, enacting services provided to people who have fallen on hard times, or are downtrodden, there’s a multitude of things that could have happened, they don’t need to intervene. We’re out here feeding people, we’re taking care of one another, and that is the core of all humanity. That’s what we’re here to do. Did I expect to have problems with them? Concerning what I just said, no, but knowing the police and what they do? Of course they were here trying to get rid of us.
MB: What exact law or citation did the cops try to shut you down with, or did they not specify?
SR: He did, he listed the code we were in violation of. I don’t remember, he said we didn’t have a permit for furniture, or to feed people, and I just asked him a few simple questions, like ‘okay, well when you go home and feed your family at night, do you have a permit to do that? Do you have a permit to cook your family food? To sit at your dinner table?’ No you don’t. And it’s the same thing if we’re having a picnic at a park or something else. This is a community space that we as taxpayers pay for, and if we want to feed people this is what we’re gonna do. So he did specify, I don’t remember what it was, but he then told me– I claimed responsibility for the furniture which he then tried to write me a citation for.
The Homeless Bill of Rights
The incident is one of many sparking a movement known as the “Homeless Bill of Rights”. According to the movement’s website, it hopes to “end the criminalization of existing in public space” by passing legislation such as the Right to Rest Act, which would decriminalize resting or sleeping in public spaces. Currently, this crime almost exclusively targets the homeless.
The movement also claims to “[stand] on the shoulders of social justice campaigns of the past to alleviate poverty and homelessness while protecting homeless and poor people from unjust laws and ensuring all people’s right to exist in public spaces.”
Many members of the population appear more than ready to aid the disadvantaged of Denver. However, many public policies and police actions are lagging behind.
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