Azria stands protesting on May 30 in Denver, Colorado

To be shot at

The violence of the justice system spills into the streets – a young protester writes on facing the police brutality


Azria, is 19-years-old and works full time in the Denver area. Growing up in the “Sunnyside” neighborhood of Denver, Arroyo now lives in Wheat Ridge Colorado. Read Azria’s account below.

Thursday May 28, was the first day of the protests in Denver. It was a peaceful, calm and organized gathering. Once law enforcement showed up, chaos began to erupt almost immediately. Police arrived in full riot gear forming a line in front of the protesters. The standoff began.

"Unprovoked, officers began to shove us"

Unprovoked, officers began to shove us. We kept our hands up as a display of non-violence while officers became increasingly aggressive. They charged people from behind, throwing them onto the ground, and attempted to run their police truck into the crowd. Tensions grew when four officers attacked an elderly black man in a wheelchair as he tried to cross the street.

Saturday, May 30, was my second day at the protest, I went knowing there was a very real possibility of getting hurt. It felt necessary to go not only to stand in solidarity with the BLM movement, but to stand against our Police departments history of misconduct, discrimination, abuse of power, and their militarized response to what began as a peaceful gathering against police brutality. The first time we were tear gassed was at 4 p.m., four hours before the newly ordered 8 p.m. curfew. The energy was positive as we marched through the streets. We approached the police station. There was a line of officers in full riot gear, and armed officers on rooftops surrounding the area. Officers covered their badge numbers as we tried to note them. Another protester yelled, “That’s  illegal!”

Some officers were smirking at us, as if they were enjoying themselves. Suddenly, everyone was frantically running as officers shot into the crowd and deployed tear gas canisters. While running, I tripped over several people. I panicked as three canisters of tear gas landed at my feet, releasing thick smoke burning my eyes and skin. When I tried to breathe the pressure in my chest and lungs felt as though I was drowning.

Many vomited in the streets. A volunteer medic rinsed my eyes out. The effects subsided over the next hour, but lingered days after. We re-gathered and marched towards the Capitol building. We arrived at a swarm of police, Denver SWAT, and Colorado National Guard armed with “less than lethal” weapons. Standing head to head with officers, we chanted “We don’t see no riot here, why are you in riot gear?”.

Officers who lay near bushes with weapons aimed at us looked like a scene out of a war zone. The standoff continued, until officers started indiscriminately firing “less than lethal” ammunition into the crowd. We ran into the park. Tear gas canisters and rubber bullets flew into the street. Some protesters picked them up and threw them back. Cops started charging into the park. I saw 40 millimeter baton rounds cut through the crowd. Protesters near me were hit in the eyes and head and fell down.

"We see no riot here, why are you in riot gear?"

Volunteer medics came to their aid, making an improvised stretcher from fencing. I saw something flying toward me. I quickly ran backwards, but my leg was hit with a 40mm baton round, that knocked me off of my feet. It was surreal.

There was a girl crying next to me and someone yelled, “She was hit with a rubber bullet.”

The remainder of the day was chaos. I was exhausted and overwhelmed. I found out later, about someone who had been at the protest that day having eye removal surgery, as a result of less than lethal ammunition fired by police. I wasn’t surprised by his story. I felt lucky to only have a bruise and a swollen leg, while others left with permanent reminders of what they’d endured that day. 

Azria said that she had trouble breathing days after being tear-gassed and had nose bleeds. She is biracial, with parents from Senegal and Mexico, and has faced discrimination growing up.

Denver protests on May 30, 2020

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