by Ted Manna
American Reporter Correspondent
April 23, 2008
DENVER, Colo., Aug. 20, 2008 -- Just a few blocks from Martin Luther King Blvd. but seven miles from downtown, the Denver County Sheriff's Dept. today unveiled a collection of big steel cages - paid for by a $500,000 grant from the Democrats - for protestors arrested at their presidential nomnating convention here next week.
Across town, closer to next week's main event, when 30,000 delegates will descend on Denver with 15,000 journalists hot on their trail, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi drew demonstrators of her own at a signing party for her new book, "Know Your Power: A Message to America's Daughters."
It was just one of the many ironies present in a democratic tableau that is to be played out against a backdrop of worldwide terrorism.
The protestors may soon be sharing those less than elegant digs at the convention's Arrest Processing Center, or APC, with some more exotic offenders. It should make for a lively party, political and otherwise.
Denver's Marijuana Policy Review Panel today issued a statement calling for "No marijuana arrests during the DNC," which will be held on Aug. 25-28. Denver police, however, say they will arrest or cite pot smokers despite a 2007 voter-approved measure designating marijuana possession "Denver's lowest enforcement policy." It's apparently a matter of priorities.
While the facility is probably more modern and humane than those Southern jails that housed Dr. King after his numerous arrests, it stood as a sharp contrast to the brilliant azure skies and green lawns of nearby City Park. Its stark, depressing entrance lent a forbidding feeling to the tidy neighborhoods near (Daddy) Bruce Randolph Avenue, named for a revered restaurant owner who for years provided free Thanksgiving Day dinners to the city's poorest.
Step out of or across the police lines, however, and this low-tech hoosegow is where you will end up.
There is no "get out of jail free" card. In fact, the citation for disturbing the peace, or marching in the streets without a permit, will cost protestors $100 for a cash bond. Disobeying a police officer's order to disperse, "even if you are not engaged in illegal activities," will get you cuffed, according to a Denver Police Department pamphlet entitled, "Your Rights to Demonstrate and Protest."
The Denver PD has also stated that protestors will be arrested and detained, not just issued a summons and complaint as is customary for these misdemeanor offenses, "because if we just cited these people they would be right back on the streets breaking the law," a police spokesmans said.
Most conventions are trailed by a plethora of lawsuits that often cost the cities where they are held additional millions to fight or settle. Denver promises to be no different.
Undersheriff Bill Lovingier, Director of Corrections, conducted a media tour of the facility Wednesday, explaining how people will be moved through the facility - booking, fingerprinting, mug shots and bonding out.
"This is a processing center to accommodate the anticipated increased arrests doing the convention," Lovingier said soothingly. "This is not long term detention.
"There will be water, access to bathrooms and phones. We have a nurses' station so the arrestees can be screened for medical issues. If there is an immediate medical issue, they will go directly to one of the five nurses on hand. There will be decontamination zones set up so the nurses can treat chemical problems if someone gets a good dose of mace or tear gas." In the event of a bad dose, they would presumably go to the University of Colorado's Denver Medical Center or other public hospitals.
There was no barbed-razor wire around the tops of the 18' by 18' chain-link cages, which are anchored to the pillars of a formerly unused warehouse. As workers installed chain-link ceilings on the cages, Lovingier explained that officers had reluctantly bowed to pressure from the community and Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper's office.
"The original plan was to have razor wire. We had to dig a little deeper for an alternative," Lovingier explained, "but we still have an obligation to keep opposing protest groups separate and our staff safe."
The sheriff's department received a $500,000 grant from the DNC for the facility and increased manpower. A $40,000 cooling system installed recently will keep the warehouse comfortably cool if temperatures heat up; snow fell in mountain passes north of the city last week. The space can hold 400 people and can process up to 60 people an hour.
"Felonies, domestic violence disputes and aggressive, violent or hostile arrestees will be removed to the county jail," Novingier warned, but noted that people can speak or march in the cages "as long as it's lawful."
While sheriffs will be ready to meet detainees with stun guns and cages, most of Denver's rank-and-file are hoping for a more sedate experience. "It would be nice if we're bored, waiting for lunch, maybe playing Wii," one officer joked.
"We have been planning since April and we're excited to get the Convention here and over with. We are so ready."
The former World War II-era U.S. army medical depot looks ready.
Security, already at what pot-smokers would undoubtedly call a "paranoid" level, racheted up significantly with the announcement of the facility's location.
As technicians fine-tuned the computers for booking, mug shots and processing, media photographers during Wednesday's tour were warned not to take pictures of windows or any other unauthorized areas.
"We don't want anyone planning how to get out of here," one officer said.
"In planning the processing center, City officials shared plans with criminal defense attorneys ... as well as the American Civil Liberties Union," Mayor Hickenlooper said in an official statement.
That did not placate local activists.
Glen Spagnuolo, the soft-spoken, razor-tongued co-founder of protest group ReCreate 68, quipped "We have a pamphlet called the Constitution. Some of us have already read it."
Meanwhile, with no presentiment that she may be headed to jail, the poised and elegant Pelosi relaxed with her book customers at the venerable Tattered Cover bookstore in downtown Denver. She commended Hickenlooper for his business-minded approach to running a city and showed no sign of nerves about Monday's convention start.
Outside, demonstrators promoted Ralph Nader and called for Vice-President Cheney's impeachment. There was no sign of discontent at the book signing, albeit by design. One of the bookstore's managers admonished the 150 or so people attending to "be polite."
When observer Brian Terrill started to voice some of his concerns, he was asked to leave. And Secret Service personnel asked James Duncan to leave a tablecloth outside, in case he might used it to make a political statement. That is usually legal in Denver.
But Julie Fifer and her 7-year-old son Elam, of Westminster, Colo., said they were there "just because it's kind of interesting."
It's going to be a lot more interesting next week.