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The True Motivation behind the Denver Camping Ban

Written by Dominic Dezzutti

The Denver City Council will begin debating a proposed camping ban within the city limits this week. While Mayor Hancock and members of the business community point to the homeless issue at large, it is safe to say that a higher profile group of homeless have motivated the ban.

Anyone who drives near Colfax and Broadway knows that for the last year or so, a certain group of individuals turned the Occupy Denver protest into an ugly homeless compound.

It did not take a rocket scientist to figure out that pressure would eventually be placed on the Denver City Council to do something about it before summer weather grew the compound’s numbers once more.

Business leaders point to the homeless problem on the 16th Street mall and in LoDo as the big issue. And while that problem certainly exists, it is not nearly has high profile as the Occupy compound. And even though recent construction within Civic Center Park has displaced many Occupy/Homeless folks, the fact is that citizens of Denver still see the once mighty protest more as an eyesore than an exercise of the First Amendment.

The once influential protest lost all of its political power over the winter when protesters allowed homeless citizens to replace the protests with an ugly homeless compound that became a breeding ground for unsavory problems.

This sad fate of the movement could have been avoided if said movement had taken the initiative to redefine its purpose once the weather changed. Instead of “occupying” a piece of a civic park, the movement could have organized corporate and bank oriented protests and left the sleeping outside for its summer activities.

However, the key part of that failed plan is the word “organize”, which the Occupy movement always saw as an anathema to what they stood for. I understand not wanting to elect a leader or state certain goals, but refusing to organize at all ruined the potential of the movement.

This refusal to organize allowed the public to grow very tired of seeing the shanty town grow on the city’s civic front steps. That fatigue has now translated into the pressure for the city to enact a camping ban.

While the passage of the ban is not a lock, there should be enough pressure to make it happen. If it does, it will be a significant blow to the spring version of the Occupy movement. If protesters get frustrated with the ban in the summer, they only have themselves to blame.

Meanwhile, the non-protester homeless in the city will indeed become collateral damage of the camping ban. But I honestly do not see that they will notice a great deal of pressure outside of the immediate downtown area.

While camping under bridges will be included in the ban, that kind of camping is not what business leaders are worried about. They want to keep commercial areas safe and clean.

Citizens are generally okay with seeing first amendment displays on Colfax and Broadway. It’s where citizens go to protest. That has never been the problem.

The problem is that citizens never wanted to see an area known for its civic pride to become an area that no one wanted to walk through because it felt likely they were crossing a filthy homeless gauntlet.

The Occupy protesters wanted to bring change to the world. However, I am unsure they wanted to bring this kind of change, but bring it they did.
About The Blogger

– Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his blog. Read new entries here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti also produces the Emmy winning Colorado Inside Out, hosted by Raj Chohan, on Colorado Public Television.


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