After weeks of criticism for reacting too aggressively to a protest against police brutality, Aurora police were criticized again on Monday for failing to do enough to prevent violence and property damage in another protest on Saturday.
Some city council members and the mayor questioned the department’s hands-off approach, which allowed some in the crowd to damage windows of city buildings and set the city courthouse on fire, during a meeting Monday evening. At the same time the meeting started, protest organizers and community members held a rally to learn how a driver could race through the crowd of hundreds of protesters – causing a woman to fall off the elevated freeway – and why the police did not arrest the driver when he stopped.
“That’s 1,000 cases of attempted vehicle murders,” said Candice Bailey, one of the organizers of the protest on Saturday.
Deputy City Administrator Jason Batchelor said the police department decided to protest after weeks of criticism and a federal lawsuit for the use of pepper spray and physical violence against a largely peaceful crowd that gathered on June 27, Elijah’s death McClain by Aurora Police.
“We have had criticism from council members and others in the past that police officers were escalating the situation,” said Batchelor.
Batchelor said the officers were in the area of the protest the entire time, but they were deliberately not visible. The officers did not use rubber bullets or other less lethal ammunition, he said. The city does not yet have an estimate of the cost of the damage, but Batchelor said at least 20 windows were broken.
Three people were injured in the protest: the woman who fell off the highway and two people who were shot when someone in the crowd opened fire as the jeep passed through the group.
City police officers were due to explain their decisions at the study session Monday night, but were recalled after two Aurora police officers were injured in a shooting in Denver during the meeting. Instead, Batchelor answered questions from members of the city council and the mayor on behalf of the police department.
Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman said the city tour would have further discussions with the department about strategy regarding protesters, which he called “the opposition”.
An hour before the presentation to the city council, community organizers and people who participated in the protest on Saturday gathered in front of an Aurora library and criticized the police for not preventing a driver from running peacefully through the hundreds, demonstrating peacefully on Interstate 225 and choosing not to arrest the driver.
“The Aurora Police Department allowed the jeep to break into us and try to murder us,” Bailey said.
The man who crashed his truck into the jeep to prevent it from hitting people also criticized the fact that the jeep driver, who was not publicly identified by police, was not arrested.
“Elijah McClain wasn’t even allowed to go home from the supermarket,” said Sebastian Sassi, comparing how the Aurora police reacted to the two incidents.
The debriefing on Monday marks the second time in a month that department heads have been asked to explain their actions while responding to protests outside government buildings in the city.
On June 30, Interim Police Chief Vanessa Wilson defended her decision to use pepper spray and force to remove peaceful people from the lawn in front of City Hall during a violin watch for Elijah McClain. The reasons for the aggressive push were the actions of a few who knocked down fences and threw water bottles at the police, as well as an armed person.