Denver police commander Matt Murray says the student-led protests in Denver this week are unlike anything he’s seen in 25 years of law enforcement.
“Not like this, day after day,” he said.
Today is the fifth consecutive school day Denver students have walked out of class to protest police brutality and discrimination, prompted by two national incidents where grand juries declined to indict officers who killed unarmed black men. Students at George Washington High School held a protest on their campus early this afternoon, while students at GALS Academy held a walkout earlier in the day. Students at DSST Stapleton, STRIVE Prep: SMART, Denver Center for International Studies (Baker), Omar D. Blair, and KIPP Denver Collegiate High School also held protests.
The protesters were taking a page from students at East High School, who walked out of school last Wednesday. Since then, students at Lincoln, Montbello, George Washington, South, West, and North high schools and the Denver School of the Arts have also walked out of school. Students in other school districts across the state have also led protests.
Yesterday, Denver Public Schools officials and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock commended students for their engagement but encouraged them to remain in class. The district has provided teachers and schools resources for addressing the protests and the issues that prompted them in class.
Both the school system and the Denver mayor’s office are planning a series of conversations about race and social justice across the city.
Denver police will participate in those conversations, said commander Murray. Police chief Robert C. White was at East High School last week, and police met with the organizers of yesterday’s protest at South High School.
Murray said the protests seemed to be evolving. While earlier protesters had marched in the streets, now “they’re more typically obeying the law,” he said.
Murray said that protesting students at some schools have apprised the police department of their protests before they begin, while others have not.
“What we do is we respond to what they do. There’s no coordination—we’re not saying come break the law. We get the best intelligence we can and we react to what they do,” Murray said.
“I think as a responsible citizen, when you feel passionately about an issue, you should still look at both sides,” Murray said. “The protesters don’t want to be measured by the worst actions of their crowd, and we don’t want to be measured by the worst actions of ours.”
“I think there’s an irony I hope is not lost on the students that we’re protecting their rights and their safety while they protest us,” Murray said. “And the other thing I’d say is they don’t win a lot of people to their cause when they cuss at us … you can protest without being disrespectful.”
He said the department was preparing for more protests this week, though none were confirmed.
“No matter what they do, we’re going to be there. That’s what we do,” Murray said.
Update: This story was updated to include student protests at DSST Stapleton, STRIVE Prep: SMART, Denver Center for International Studies (Baker), Omar D. Blair, and KIPP Denver Collegiate High School.