DENVER (CBS4) – A couple hundred people held a vigil in Civic Center Park on Thursday to rally with thousands in Ferguson, Mo., and across the country who are protesting the recent shooting death of a teenager in a St. Louis suburb.
But the peaceful gathering near the state capitol contrasted significantly with the five days of violence and looting that have raged in Ferguson since a police officer killed 18-year-old Michael Brown on Saturday.
“We wanted to come together because we believe that police brutality is not just one of the defining issues of our time, but it’s killing human beings,” rally organizer Kenny Wiley said.
He said what happened to Brown could happen in Denver.
“We think it’s about a system. We understand that there are good people in every department. We just feel like the system of racism and inequality is such a problem, pervasively, that black people and people of color are seen as criminal before they do anything,” Wiley said.
Church leaders at the rally reminded the crowd of tragedy at the Denver jail, including that of Marvin Booker, who died in 2010 after being choked and beaten by deputies.
“Even though it is happening in Missouri, it is happening to all of us. We cannot ignore what is happening in Missouri,” an attendee said.
Protesters in Denver carried signs that read “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” in reference to the circumstances surrounding Brown’s death. Early reports indicated that Brown had his hands in the air when he was shot. Police said Brown assaulted the officer accused of shooting him, and during the struggle, Brown reached for the officer’s gun. One shot was fired in the police vehicle, followed by several outside.
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The shooting has sparked racial tension and drawn comparisons to the death of Trayvon Martin, who was killed in Florida in 2012 by a neighborhood watchman. Martin’s story, chock-full of hot-button issues like race, guns and self-defense, riveted the nation for months.
“What got me to do this is that people kept asking where their white friends were when bad things happened,” a woman who attended Denver’s rally said. “We have to get involved.”
After days of violent standoffs between police and protesters in Ferguson, including the tear-gassing of crowds, the Missouri Highway Patrol has taken command of crowd control in the city. In a reversal, the city’s police department is it would identify the officer who shot Brown. Previously, it said it wouldn’t identify him for safety concerns.
Earlier Thursday, President Barack Obama weighed in: “There is never an excuse for violence against police or for those who would use this tragedy as a cover for vandalism or looting. There’s also no excuse for police to use excessive force against a peaceful protests.”