When Cops Stay Hiding & Go Running:
A Report Back from 8/8 Night of Action & 8/30 March for Ryan Ronquillo in Denver, CO
As the event to raise funds for Ryan Ronquillo’s family drew to a close and the banner reading “Justice for Ryan Ronquillo” was lowered, the crowd seemed anxious. There were about 60 people left of the 250 who came through the door for the event that was co-organized with the family and their friends, along with local hip hop artists Brer Rabbit, Sole, Molina Speaks, Stay Tuned, Jonny 5, and Time. Maybe anxiety wasn’t really the feeling going around that night. People were on edge, sure. But mostly people. The District Attorney Mitch Morrissey had just made the decision to close the “investigation”—If you can call it that—of Ryan’s assassination at the Romero Funeral home on July 2nd of this year (2014). He concluded that because he was in a car, he wielded a deadly weapon and thus his death was justified and all the cops involved would face no further scrutiny. His parents didn’t even know about the DA’s decision until some of their friends found out on 9 News, and were in complete shock. They were shut out of the entire investigative process, and still hadn’t been able to learn the names of those who murdered their son until that night, with the publication of the DA’s decision.
The family gets on stage after the music acts and reminds those in attendance that they want us all to take the streets, to show them we’re not going to have this shit. That we won’t be silenced by their closed door decisions, that the police are an occupying army—words often spoken in fits of rage by Ryan’s father ever since the murder—that we need to show the pigs that they can’t just murder us and get away with it.
We took to the streets at around 11:00pm. The crowd was about 60 people strong and departed down Santa Fe, Denver’s gentrified arts district. Two banners created a wedge at the front of the march reading “Justice for Ryan Ronquillo” and “Police are Denver’s most violent gang”. Santa Fe was quickly blocked by the demonstration, holding up traffic for an entire block. All the common FTP chants echoed out into the night as we marched down to the City and County building, about 12 blocks away. As we passed onto Speer Boulevard (an extremely busy intersection), demonstrators halted traffic speeding by and spat on cars that didn’t yield or aimed for us.
As we marched down 13th Ave, by the Federal Reserve and Mint, the night was filled with “No Justice, No Peace, Fuck the Police!”, “Justice for Ryan!”, and “Oink, Oink, Bang, Bang, Everyday the Same Old Thang!”. No cops in sight yet. We made our way to the jail/court house area and many masked up folks began defacing property with stickers and markers. Many ran up on the jail entrance and began banging on the doors screaming various degrees of, “Hey you fucking pigs, come the fuck out here and fight us! Don’t hide, you fucking pieces of shit! You can murder Ryan in his car, but won’t come out and face us?! FUCK YOU!” etc. etc. The cops inside were scared, the less militant of the group stood back, feeling bottle necked on the side street on the turf of the State. They didn’t come out of their castle, despite the banging and kicking of the doors and glass of the entrance.
As we made our way back up 13th, a parked police cruiser was kicked, setting off the car alarm. Two unmarked cop cars parked caddy corner did nothing. The family and others from the demo ran up on them and shamed them, spitting and screaming for them to either fight us or get the fuck out. A mobile projector lit up the jail and police headquarters with photos of Ryan. The night was eerily silent, completely filled with the chants and screams of the demo. We made our way back, exhausted and astonished at the lack of police response to the confrontation. Emboldened by the lack of police presence many smashed public property along the way. Bus stop ads were shattered in broken glass amidst cheers and a few expected sighs. More anti-police graffiti was done, leaving a trail behind the march.
Back up Santa Fe (opposite direction on the one way street), the police were showing up on every corner. Two+ squad cars emerged in every intersection and quarantined traffic off from the demo. It seemed like we were going to be kettled in the area the march began. The crowd remained bold and fearless. Louder chants persisted amidst dying vocal chords. Still not one cop got out of their cruiser. We made it back to the venue and as the police began to advance on the crowd with their cars, the march ran up on them, playing chicken. People started banging on the hood, kicking the cars, everyone screaming, some crying tears and all crying in rage. We made them retreat. It was an immense feeling. Everyone cheered as the pigs were forced to back out, and subsequently left. A few words were said to ensure folks dispersed safely and kept in small groups, and still had the legal line provided by DABC in case they were jumped by pigs on the way home.
A little background on the lead up to the lead up to the 8/8 demo:
In the days and weeks after police murdered Ryan Ronquillo at the Romero Funeral Home on July 2nd, there were several meetings that occurred between the community in North Denver and the Ronquillo/Sanchez family. A couple days after the police murder there was a vigil, where the press documented the rage and pain of those who were close with Ryan and those who at the funeral of Ryan’s best friend (where Ryan was shot). Shortly after, an organization named G.R.A.S.P. (Gang Rescue and Support Project, known for snitching, and coordinating closely with the police to address gang violence in the city) organized a public meeting/forum at the Romero Funeral Home. Conveniently, not open to the press. Among the present were the investigative board (chief of safety, etc), members of the community including Ryan’s family and witnesses, Mayor Hancock, two Police Sergeants and some other city officials. Some non-profit and church groups were also present.
This meeting initiated an accountability process to hold the Denver Police Department’s gang unit accountable, and was a platform in which the family outright called out the DPD for being nothing better than an “occupying army” and “the biggest gang in the city, full of cowboys who have nothing better to do than harass and murder kids in the community”. The police stumbled to defend their rhetoric and the city promised to investigate and do what they do best – drag out any legal process in a marathon of legalese long enough to drain the energy of those in the community demanding justice. The near-formulaic direction by the church and state of the “accountability” process for the mourners and outraged community members alike was unsurprising. The next meeting was about a week later where two male GRASP members more or less conducted a one way conversation between eachother, and planned a benefit for Ryan’s family (who could not afford to bury their son). Three days after that meeting, they announced over email and text that the Ronquillo family would responsive to their calls and that the benefit would be called off, and nothing could be done to help them.
Other members in the community were approached by Ryan’s family and asked if they could help organize a march and benefit event for Ryan. Networks reached far and wide throughout Denver’s radical community, who were remembering Marvin Booker and Alonzo Ashley, two black men who were murdered by the DPD in July of years prior. Musicians came on board and secured a venue to play at, while others echoed the family’s wishes for a night march to follow the fundraiser. As the night drew closer, posters started showing up in the city, stating that “Denver Police are an occupying army, at war with you. Are you at war with them?” and demanding Justice for Ryan Ronquillo. The event itself was full of family friends, folks trickling in from the street, friendly faces from around Denver’s radical community. About 250 people showed up and helped raise $1,200 for the funeral fund.
After the 8/8 demo, several meetings ensued with the Ronquillo family. They were watching the news unfold in Ferguson, MO and felt sick that people in Denver weren’t doing more around the police murder of their son. Folks organized another march, this time during the day. This time planned with more outreach and notice to agitate in solidarity with the struggle in Ferguson. It was agreed upon that there would be no permits, or any other sort of authoritarian march dynamics in the demo and that everyone should feel at liberty to act out and to express themselves however they needed to. They wanted the march to start at the Romero Funeral Home, where Ryan was murdered. Fliers circulated at every Ferguson vigil (which were happening about 2x a week during the initial stages of their rebellion), including the state/church-marshalled demonstration for Ferguson in Denver. People acknowledged they had heard about Ryan’s murder and voiced their outrage about it. Still many had almost forgotten about it, being that the local media only slightly glanced at it (and used justifications of criminal background to justify the police murder).
The day of August 30th, a crowd gathered at the Romero Funeral Home on the Northside with signs, banners, water and megaphones. It was a slow trickle in, but eventually the crowd turned about 100 people from the beginning. Members of Brothers Against Racist Cops (BARC) were in attendance, Alex Landau (a brother beaten almost to death by racist pigs in Denver years prior) and many other affinity groups populated the Funeral Home parking lot. The DABC Legal line was disseminated, the family talked about Ryan, and we all headed out to District 1 headquarters (about 4 blocks away).
“Police are the army of the rich” began as we marched through the neighborhood. It picked up stronger and stronger as people in front of their houses cheered us on, threw up fists or smiled. Looking behind us, we had a small convoy had our backs with posters for the march on every window of the car. We got to District 1 with ferocity. Already 2 cops on motorcycles were closing intersections on Pecos (1 block from the station). As we got to the front door, people started banging on the doors and windows. Chants persisted and the largely unmasked crowd called for the pigs to come out from hiding. The station was defaced with markers and someone even tried to smash the only security cam that faced the crowd. Unfortunately the tool broke! Still someone held a sign over the camera during the confrontation. Eventually someone noted that they could see the pigs gearing up in the station. People were unabashed and unafraid, only more emboldened by the cowards in the police station. “Come out and fucking fight us, pigs!” Fully suited in riot gear, the cops held their position knowing full well they were out numbered.
Neighbors from the small residential project across the street came outside to see what was going on. Some noted that they knew Ryan, that they supported us and many waved, honked, took leaflets about the case/demands/etc. and so on. Surely that alone is a bold move when that community faces persistent harassment by the cops on the daily.
We proceeded through a neighborhood called Jefferson Park, or “Lo-hi” as the yuppies renamed it. North Denver is being quickly gentrified by rich white people building luxury condos. It is sickening how quickly the neighborhood gentrified here in a matter of 2-3 years. As we passed through the condocaplypse, we noticed cop cars picking up behind our 4 car deep convoy of supporters. We still held the streets. Some people hurled shit at the empty brand new luxury condos. A new chant began “No more people killed by cops, so you can live in fancy lofts!”. We as we descended on the biggest yuppie shopping area, class war antagonizing echoed up the walls of the privileged. Signs were stapled up on every wooden post, and Saturday ice cream eaters and restaurateurs covered their kids’ ears and looked on aghast. A wooden barricade meant for keeping cars out of a private drive way was dropped squarely in front of cop cars now right on the demo’s tail. Apparently the convoy had all been pulled over and ticketed.
Luckily the pedestrian bridge over the highway was just blocks away. We lost the pigs for a brief moment of reprieve and many vandalized what they could. We got over the bridge to see one cop just arriving at that intersection to be greeted with plenty of “FUCK YOU”s. We crossed the street and through the park towards the center of downtown. Several barricades were picked up and carried onto the next street to block off the new squad cars that were trying to kettle us. Another bridge! We caught our breath at the top of the enormous stair case and waited for the folks that needed to take the elevator. A family dressed to the 9’s in pink, admittedly in the middle of a quincinera photo shoot said, “Whoohoo yeah, FUCK THE POLICE!” with a raised fist. To the horror of the people on their yuppie condo balconies, some people shouted that they wanted to burn down their upper class dwellings. It’s the little things, right?
We made it to the other side of the bridge to the heart of Denver, the outdoor promenade of capitalist enterprise called the 16th street mall. Construction barricades were appropriated and repositioned in the street. The mall’s bus was shut down as the march descended on 16th. An LRAD trailed behind us with a pig filming the demonstrators. Every so often some people would move the big trashcans into the street behind us, holding off the LRAD as the stupid fuckers had to park, get out to move the trashcans and then catch up with us. This tactic left some space for the protest to breathe and agitate the crowd. We handed out over 2000 fliers on the march itself, a bulk on the mall. Many people filmed the demo, refusing to take fliers, while others chanted along with us “FERGUSON HAS SHOWN THE WAY, FIGHT THE COPS EVERY DAY!”
Before we could break into the “Taste of Colorado” convention, we were stopped about a block away. A cop car had managed to get itself surrounded by the crowd, and was occupied by one terrified dumb cop. The demo was surrounded by over 100 onlookers, both cheering support and shaking their fingers at us. Then the riot cops came in with olive drab turtle suits (’08-DNC fatigues), tear gas and pepper balls. In the standoff the pursued, they shoved their way through with their nightsticks as bottles and a few rocks were thrown back. They swarmed on Ryan’s mom and then quickly backed off. At this point the crowd had cleared from around the trapped cop car and left. The crowd proceeded to hold the intersection for a brief moment. As quickly as they came, the pigs left. Cheers and more FTP chants followed.
The crowd made way to a dispersal point where a few remarks were made and folks scattered. About 30 minutes later a few comrades who were walking away from the dispersal point were confronted by a SWAT team who descended on them from a nearby street, choking one and detaining two others. A few people managed to get away. They were the only ones who were able to notify the legal team and other demonstrators. All three were charged with disobeying a lawful order, resisting an officer and one demonstrator was additionally charged with destruction of property. We managed to bail them out and are currently awaiting trial.
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