DENVER (CBS4) – Gov. John Hickenlooper has taken a lot of heat over the last week for his handling of Occupy Denver. Political specialist Shaun Boyd sat down with the governor on Wednesday to talk about the protest.
It was in the early days of Occupy Denver as the first tents went up in Lincoln Park and Hickenlooper had a sinking feeling.
“I could see this was something that could easily catch on,” Hickenlooper said.
Seemingly overnight 10 tents turned to 40, then upwards of 80. Illegal camping was just the start. Protestors were stealing electricity for a makeshift kitchen, there was drug use, and people urinating and defecating on the grass.
PHOTO GALLERY: Occupy Denver
Boyd asked the governor why he allowed the unlawful behavior to go on for a week.
“Well, obviously the First Amendment is something that is cherished in this country,” he said. “There were also jurisdictional questions. It’s a state park but we don’t have a jail in Denver … the things people keep forgetting is you do this wrong and settling a million dollar lawsuit.”
So the city and state planned with Denver police and the Colorado State Patrol on how to respond safely. As they planned the protest grew and Hickenlooper went to meet with crowd.
“Usually my experience when you have a problem and there’s trouble I usually think it’s better to go towards it and go listen,” said Hickenlooper
But protestors stood their ground. The night before police moved in Hickenlooper called the head of public safety.
“I asked him, I said, ‘Is there something we could be doing better?’ He said, ‘Not a thing, I think we have the right plan, we have the right people; they’re prepared and this will come off without a hitch.”
Of the hundreds of protestors who had gathered by then, only 23 would be arrested.
“You can say it was lucky, probably was lucky, things could have gone worse, who knows what could have happened, but a lot of luck was result of hard work,” Hickenlooper said. “I wish I could have gotten to them sooner and established a relationship going forward.
“In the end, having dialogue and taking time to listen and talk … compared to what was seen in other parts of country, this was pretty non violent.”
Hickenlooper credits law enforcement and said they showed admirable restraint.
Hickenlooper said they’re still calculating the cost to handle the protesters. He also said he is sympathetic to their frustration. Hickenlooper was laid off in the 80s and was out of work for two years. He said he understands why they are unhappy with the system.