After years of community pressure for police reform, the city was primed for protest.
On May 30, Denver’s third night of protests over the death of George Floyd, a Black man allegedly murdered by police in Minneapolis, thousands gathered in Civic Center Park, hoisting signs with slogans reading “No Justice, No Peace” and “Black Lives Matter.” Traffic cones and graffiti covered most of the statues, empty tear-gas canisters littered the streets and scorch marks scarred the vast lawn. Police in riot gear, holding paintball guns and foam bullet launchers, lined the streets surrounding the park.
Without warning, the officers began throwing metal canisters into the crowd. As they clinked to the ground, explosions boomed, and some of the canisters sprayed a grayish-yellow mist into the air. Protesters, gagging on the mist, stumbled towards the Capitol building, pushing aside the masks they wore to protect them from the coronavirus.
In the Western United States, Denver’s protests were early flashpoints for violent conflicts between protesters and police, resulting in more than 300 arrests and a curfew starting Saturday, May 31. In 2010, Denver outranked other U.S. cities for publicized incidents of excessive police force, and ever since, it has grappled with police reform. A highly developed network of protesters was primed for action when word of Floyd’s death on May 25 spread.
“Denver has a long history of abuse in its police departments,” said Alex Landau, who co-founded the Denver Justice Project after he was beaten nearly to death by police in 2009, after he asked for a warrant during a traffic stop. “There is more going on out here than people just expressing their feelings.”
Protesters have marched on Denver’s streets every day since May 30, with the peaceful afternoon assemblies routinely devolving into chaos as the sun went down. In early June, the tenor began to shift. Police Chief Paul Pazen joined the afternoon protest, marching arm-in-arm with protest leaders at the front of the crowd. That night, fewer officers arrived in riot gear, and the protest did not escalate to the violence of previous nights.
Though the police have toned down their presence, Pazen defended the initial show of force in public statements, calling it a response to vandalism, looting and water bottles and rocks being thrown at officers.
Protesters say that, in many instances, police officers escalated the violence unprovoked. Meanwhile, peaceful bystanders were reportedly caught in the crossfire: A tent in one of the park’s many homeless camps caught fire Thursday after being struck by a police projectile, and protesters were hit with rubber bullets while marching or simply standing. Journalists have also reported being targeted by police fire, even with their press credentials visible. (When I was covering the protests in late May, a police officer kicked a canister of tear gas into the pool of photographers I was standing near. The chemicals sprayed onto my face and blinded me for several minutes.)
Many in Denver carried signs and posted on social media, comparing the video of Floyd’s killing to the 2015 death of Michael Marshall, a homeless Black man with schizophrenia who had been arrested for trespassing. A deputy pinned Marshall to the ground, face down, during a psychotic episode at the jail. An autopsy later found that Marshall died by choking on his own vomit.
With a megaphone in hand, Tay Anderson, a member of the Denver School Board, led chants of “No justice, no peace,” and “I can’t breathe” through downtown last week. Anderson — at 21, the youngest Black man elected to office in Colorado — first stepped into the public eye as an organizer for Black Lives Matter in 2016, when he was still a student at Denver’s Manual High School.
From the front of the crowd, Anderson politely ordered the marchers to stop at traffic lights to let cars pass, and he did not tolerate protesters who sought to stir up trouble. While there has been some vandalism and violence against police officers, both the police and protest organizers blame those actions on a smaller group.
On Friday afternoon, Anderson called off a group of white protesters who ran after a police car. In a pattern that would become habitual as the weekend passed, he repeatedly rebuked agitators for harassing the police and defacing property. Since Monday, when the police presence began decreasing, other protesters have also joined in policing the crowd. Reports on social media described protesters taking fireworks from a man who appeared to be attempting to launch them at police.
“The people starting this are definitely not allies,” Anderson told me when I called him after the march. “We’ve asked folks to please just go home. We don’t have a need to tear up our city.”
While Anderson has condemned vandalism and violence against police, he says that the police reaction was disproportionate. “The police officers have escalated things,” he said. “There is no reason for them to show up in their riot gear to a peaceful protest.”
Lindsay Fendt is a freelance reporter based in Denver whose work focuses on the environment and natural resources. She is currently an Alicia Patterson fellow working on a book about the rise of environmental murders worldwide. Email High Country News at firstname.lastname@example.org.
After a winter of near-average snowfall, Mother Nature put the brakes on Western Colorado’s snowpack beginning in mid-March. As a result, the snowpack withered prematurely and West Slope runoff has suffered, a fact compounded by the lack of subsequent spring moisture. The Gunnison River peaked in mid-May and the Colorado River peak is expected this week.
According to the Colorado River District, Western Colorado’s hot and dry summer and fall of 2019 set a poor stage for whatever snow was to come, especially in the Gunnison and San Juan basins. Dry soils absorb snowmelt before streams benefit. Lack of precipitation and high winds at the end of this past winter further decimated the conversion of snow to water supply.
“We are now in year 20 of an extended dry period that we should start accepting as the new normal,” said Andy Mueller, general manager of the Colorado River District. “Warmer temperatures, dry soils and disappointing spring and summer moisture are defining how we look at future policies to determine how best to protect Western Colorado water security.”
The bright spots for West Slope water supply continue to be in Grand and Summit counties, where the best snowpack peaked above average in mid-April and continues to be above-average for this time of the year, feeding the Upper Colorado River reservoirs such as Dillon, Green Mountain, Wolford Mountain and Granby.
The situation is much different to the west and the south with below normal snowpack and seasonal runoff forecasts that approached half of what is normally expected in the Grand Mesa zone above the Grand Valley and lower Delta County. The same holds for the greater Gunnison, Uncompahgre and San Juan river basins.
The Western Water Assessment, based at the University of Colorado-Boulder, reported that a “very dry” April in Utah and southern Colorado spurred snowmelt, while northern Colorado benefited from near- average precipitation and near- to below-average temperatures. Summer temperatures are expected to be well above average with near-average precipitation, although important seasonal monsoonal rain activity is difficult to predict.
Western Colorado contributes about 70% of inflows into Lake Powell, where the total April to July runoff forecast has now fallen to 56% of normal at 4 million acre-feet. Contributions from the Green River through Utah and Wyoming are not anticipated to be enough to offset Western Colorado’s dryness. San Juan Basin runoff is expected to be less than 50% of normal.
The accumulation of snowfall and associated runoff records over time inform water planners about drought or wet trends. Unfortunately, with fifty-six percent of normal runoff into Powell, the drought that started in 2000 continues through 2020. Lake Powell was last full in 1999. It’s just about half full currently.
Here are some reservoir outlooks throughout the Colorado River District:
− On the Colorado mainstem, Granby and Green Mountain reservoirs are expected to fill. Wolford Mountain, owned and operated by the Colorado River District, is already full.
− Ruedi Reservoir is projected to fill.
− Elkhead Reservoir and Stagecoach Reservoir in the Yampa Basin will fill.
− Blue Mesa Reservoir in the Gunnison Basin will hit 75% full due to inflows that are 54% of normal.
− Ridgway Reservoir and Taylor Park reservoirs will reach 90% capacity, with forecasted seasonal inflows of 54% and 70%, respectively.
River peaks are another data point of interest to many:
− The Gunnison River peaked on May 19 at about 5,000 cubic feet a second at the Whitewater gauge near Grand Junction.
− The Colorado River will peak this week at Cameo at about 12,900 cubic feet a second, with flows aided by upstream reservoir releases to support endangered fish habitat.
− The Yampa River near Deer lodge Park may already have seen its peak at about 13,400 cubic feet a second in early May.
Effie Baum, an ‘everyday anti-fascist,’ talks about President Trump’s threat to designate the movement as a terrorist organization, and corrects the record.
As cities across the United States entered a sixth day of protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed while in the custody of Minneapolis police officers on May 25, President Donald Trump did something no other president had done before: He attempted to make a terrorist designation via tweet. “The United States of America will be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization,” he wrote, referring to an anti-fascist movement that has gained momentum during his administration.
The next afternoon, speaking from the White House Rose Garden, Trump reiterated that promise as flash-bang grenades echoed nearby. Peaceful protesters, demonstrating against nationwide police brutality against people of color, were sent screaming and sprinting away. “In recent days, our nation has been gripped by professional anarchists, violent mobs, or, arsonists, looters, criminals, rider rioters, antifa and others,” Trump told reporters.
Experts called Trump’s designation an “empty threat” that would be challenged in court. But it wasn’t a new idea: Last year, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, R, co-sponsored a bill to brand anti-fascists as terrorists. In Washington, Republican state Rep. Matt Shea — who has himself participated in far-right domestic terrorism, according to a bipartisan investigation last year — introduced a bill to investigate antifa. Neither gained traction.
Two years ago, tired of seeing anti-fascists portrayed as only masked, black-clad protesters breaking windows or getting into fistfights, an “everyday anti-fascist” group formed in Portland, Oregon. Popular Mobilization — or PopMob — was a response to the rallies continually being held in the city by far-right agitators like the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer. As PopMob spokesperson Effie Baum told High Country News, the group’s goal was to send a clear message: Fascists aren’t welcome here.
PopMob also wanted to reframe the media’s image of antifa. The group coined the term “everyday anti-fascist” and turned counter-protests into dance parties, circuses and, most famously, free milkshake giveaways. HCN recently caught up with Baum to talk about Trump’s threat and the fact that not all anti-fascists wear black. Some, in fact, wear banana costumes.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
HCN: Let’s start with a very basic question: What is antifa?
Effie Baum: “Antifa” is short for anti-fascist. It is not a unified organization. Anybody can use (the term), and anybody who identifies as an anti-fascist could also say they are antifa. You don’t have to “join” antifa. It is a self-designated thing. If you are anti-fascist, you are antifa.
Where it gets muddy is that the media representation of “antifa” is often images of people utilizing a tactic known as “black bloc,” which is big groups of people dressed all in black that you see on television. And the issue with that is that, in addition to equating antifa only with that specific tactic, it does a huge disservice to all of the work that anti-fascists do besides that one very small thing, which is community defense. Ninety-eight percent of the work that anti-fascists do does not happen in the streets. Black bloc is a tactic — it is not an organization or a group.
The stereotype is that (people in black bloc are) disruptive, that they’re just troublemakers, but the fact of the matter is they are our front lines of defense from state violence and from violence that would be inflicted on us by the right.
One of the other things that anti-fascists do is expose fascists and people that are engaging in white nationalist and far-right ideologies and violent activity. A lot of it is also, like, internet research and looking at pictures from things like Charlottesville, and identifying the people in those photos and then posting their information as a way to raise that cost of participation.
HCN: My mind goes to the way that KKK groups were more visible in the 1960s, and those people were socially shamed out of participating in outwardly racist activities. Is that the logic of that practice, too?
EB: That’s exactly what it is. We want these people to be exposed because we know that the majority of people don’t share their ideology, the majority of people are not white supremacists or active, organizing, white nationalists, and don’t support that far-right violent rhetoric. So, by exposing them — yes, it makes them uncomfortable, because then all their co-workers know that they’re engaged in that work, their landlords, their spouses, because sometimes not even their family knows. And it is a way of making them be shamed by their community.
HCN: Yesterday, Trump reiterated the tweet that he sent out on Sunday, that he intends to designate antifa as a terrorist organization. How do you understand what he’s trying to do?
EB: Right now, in this moment, the people are a real threat to the power of the police and the power of the state and basically all of the authoritarianism that Trump has been utilizing in his time in office. And so (he is) desperate to discredit what is happening by any means necessary. Because it is growing and spreading so rapidly, they cannot contain it. So, given the public perception and stigma that already exists against anti-fascists, anti-fascists are an easy scapegoat.
It also works to delegitimize the movement, because if they say, ‘Oh, it’s just a bunch of white kids or white supremacists, or these out-of-towners or outside agitators’ — what that does is it delegitimizes the real issues that we are dealing with and (why) these marches and protests are happening: the murder of George Floyd, the rampant murder of Black men and women across the country by police, and the violence that the state and the police inflict on Black and brown bodies every day.
An authoritarian administration is always going to villainize those that are the most opposed to this rising tide of fascism and authoritarianism that we’re seeing both in the U.S. and internationally. By shifting the narrative away from the police brutality, they do get that public support from both sides that are clutching their pearls over broken windows, instead of focusing on the police violence that we’ve been seeing.
HCN: Legislators around the country, as well as Portland city and Oregon state officials, are talking a lot about broken windows right now.
EB: Well, I think it is just business as usual for the police, because the police basically protect property and the wealth of the ruling class. The entire purpose of the police is largely property protection, and capitalism prioritizes the safety of property and capital over people.
It is really absurd that people are more concerned about broken windows, which can be fixed, than the fact that we have an entire culture of policing that gets away with murder every single day. And the issue shouldn’t be whether or not Target got its windows broken, because Target is a multi-bajillion dollar organization that can afford to replace some windows. But people like George Floyd and all of the people that have been murdered by the police are never gonna get their lives back. Those family members are never going to get their sons and daughters, and sisters and brothers and spouses, back. Those people are gone forever. Windows can be fixed. Graffiti can be painted over or washed off. All of that is just stuff.
HCN: Popular Mobilization started two years ago. Tell me how your role has shifted from when you formed then to what it is today.
EB: When we originally formed, our main goal was trying to encourage as many people as possible to show up and stand against these far-right groups that were having these rallies in Portland. We wanted to create an environment where it was more accessible and more welcoming for a larger, diverse group of people to show up and participate. The idea is that it would hopefully dissuade the police from using a lot of violence and crowd control.
The other thing that we do is try to make it fun as a way to invite more people to participate. And, you know, all of this stuff against anti-fascism and standing up against the violent far-right is so serious. And the thing is, one of the ways that you can really take away the power from those guys is to laugh at them.
Some Proud Boy-affiliated loudmouth from Florida named Joe Biggs was organizing, and they were busing and flying in far-right dudes from all over the country for this “war on antifa” in Portland (in August 2019). And so we decided we did not want them to have the capability of making what I refer to as “toxic masculinity riot porn,” which is the videos that they will post of themselves engaging in street fights. … So we encouraged people to be as ridiculous as possible and, like, dress up in banana costumes or the giant poop emoji and unicorns and dinosaurs so that any opportunity they had to try to make some video of them looking all macho would have something completely ridiculous in the background. We had an entire brass band dressed as bananas. That was the Banana Bloc — like, 50 people dressed in banana costumes.
It was also the largest coalition we’ve ever had around an action. We had more than 30 organizations signed on. It was a very broad-based, diverse coalition that ranged all the way from more militant organizations like Rose City Antifa, all the way to the NAACP, interfaith organizations, Buddhist Peace Fellowship, Portland United Against Hate — a very, very diverse group of organizations coming together united around one idea, which is we don’t want these fucks in our city.
HCN: What is your role in the current rallies — to back up Black and brown leaders?
EB: Yes. … It is not appropriate for us to take center stage in planning these; instead, we should be supporting the groups that are organizing events — amplifying, boosting, uplifting the voices of our local Black organizers. There are a lot of organizers in this town that have been doing this work for a really long time that are seasoned and (have been) working on police accountability for a long time.
HCN: A lot of our readers live in small communities or small cities. What do you say about being anti-fascist in places like that?
EB: Well, that’s part of our everyday anti-fascist thing. Anybody who is opposed to fascism, you are an anti-fascist. And you don’t have to show up in the streets or fill some role or be an organizer or a protester to identify as anti-fascist. You know, 75 years ago, everybody in this country was an anti-fascist. When we were at war with fascists in Europe, everyday people, everyone would have been an anti-fascist. Being an anti-fascist should not be a controversial thing. It should be controversial to be a fascist.
Leah Sottile is a correspondent at High Country News. She writes from Portland, Oregon.
Click here to read the memorandum. Here’s an excerpt:
Increasing the productivity of National Forests and Grasslands
The American people rely on our National Forests and Grasslands for a variety of products and services that sustain jobs and livelihoods in rural communities, feed America, and supply the clean water that sustains life. I am directing the Forest Service to focus resources on activities that support the productive use of these lands to deliver goods and services efficiently and effectively to meet the needs of our citizens. The Forest Service will:
streamline processes and identify new opportunities to increase America’s energy dominance and reduce reliance on foreign countries for critical minerals;
modernize management practices and reduce regulatory burdens to promote active management on Forest Service lands to support and protect rural communities, critical watersheds, and species habitat;
and expedite broadband development on Forest Service lands to increase internet connectivity in rural America.
Valuing our Nation’s grazing heritage and the National Grasslands
The Forest Service manages 3.8 million acres of National Grasslands across 12 Western States. These lands are managed for a variety of sustainable multiple-use goods and services for the American people. The National Grasslands are a conservation success story; abandoned and infertile after the Dust Bowl in the early 20th century, they now support a thriving agricultural industry and provide important wildlife habitat. They are a symbol of pride for many Americans.
The National Grasslands play a vital role in the fabric of rural communities, supporting thousands of jobs, contributing hundreds of millions of dollars to the economy, and producing food for America and the entire world. They are managed sustainably with the help of ranching families, who pride themselves as conservationists, ensuring that these lands will remain productive for generations to come. To this end, the Forest Service will:
establish in forest plans that grazing and support for grazing on the National Grasslands is essential for their management within the framework of their governing statutes;
streamline renewal of range permits and range improvements on the National Forests and Grasslands;
and enhance flexibility for Forest Service employees to work with ranching families and communities.
Increasing access to National Forest System Lands
It is imperative for the Forest Service to manage the National Forests and Grasslands for the benefit of the American people. These lands provide a multitude of public benefits, including diverse recreational opportunities, access to world-class hunting and fishing, and forest products that support America’s traditions and way of life. Accordingly, the Forest Service will:
increase access to Forest Service lands by streamlining the permit process for recreational activities and embracing new technologies and recreation opportunities;
open public access to National Forest System lands with currently limited access where feasible in cooperation with States, counties, and partners;
and improve customer service by modernizing and simplifying forest products permitting and the Forest Service land exchange process.
Expediting environmental reviews to support active management
Management activities on National Forest System lands require compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act and other applicable laws and regulations. Under this administration, the Forest Service has worked to streamline the corresponding processes while conserving public lands and ensuring the sustainable use of natural resources. I am directing the agency to further emphasize this effort through greater accountability for efficient decision making, succinct and understandable documentation of compliance, and focused and effective public engagement. The Forest Service will:
set time and page limits on the completion of environmental documents, including categorical exclusions, environmental assessments, and environmental impact statements;
streamline policy to ensure environmental reviews focus on analysis that is required by law and regulation;
work across the government to initiate the development of policies for alternative procedures to streamline consultation processes and environmental reviews;
and expedite compliance with State Historic Preservation Offices for vegetation management and facility and infrastructure improvements
Extreme drought made another large increase in southern Colorado according to the most recent update from the National Drought Mitigation Center.
Remaining areas of Las Animas, Bent, and Baca counties that had been in severe drought shifted into extreme conditions. Extreme conditions also grew in Huerfano, Crowley, and Lincoln counties, and entered southeast Pueblo County.
Severe drought expanded toward the north, increasing in Elbert, Lincoln, and Cheyenne counties. Severe conditions also expanded into southern Kit Carson County.
Above-normal temperatures and strong wind have contributed to conditions degrading. NDMC notes widespread sales of cattle in the region.
Trinidad in western Las Animas county has recorded just 1.66 inches of precipitation between January 1 and June 9, the driest start to the year since 1948 when records began.
Just under 1.4 million people in Colorado live in drought-impacted parts of the state.
Nearly two-thirds of the state is experiencing moderate drought or worse. One year ago, Colorado was free from abnormally dry conditions and all levels of drought for the first time since tracking began in 2000.
Experts have recommended how the United States can drastically curb the use of throwaway plastics with new federal legislation.
According to legal analysts who advised Congress at a briefing in January, the United States could reduce its contribution to the global plastic pollution crisis by implementing sweeping federal policies that restrict plastic use and hold manufacturers accountable for responsibly handling waste.
The expert group, composed of members from Frank G. Wells Environmental Law Clinic at UCLA and ocean conservation organization Surfrider Foundation, specifically recommended that Congress craft federal legislation banning single-use plastic products such as bags, straws and expanded polystyrene foam food containers. They also called for establishing “extended producer responsibility” schemes, which hold plastic manufacturers responsible for the waste they create.
Their recommendations, along with a new report, drew on research into existing legislation targeting plastic pollution in the United States and across the world. The experts found that the key to reducing plastic pollution is curbing consumption. The report and its presentation resulted from a semester-long project by UCLA students Charoula Melliou and Divya Rao, in collaboration UCLA attorney Julia E. Stein, Surfrider’s legal expert Angela Howe and plastic bag legal expert Jennie Romer…
There are currently no federal laws restricting single-use plastics, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t good examples that could serve as useful templates.
According to Stein, Congress could shape federal policy by following existing local and state laws that have already been crafted to tackle plastic problems with bans on all types of single-use plastic items, from bags to expanded polystyrene foam food containers to straws. California made headlines in February after lawmakers proposed a phaseout of all plastic products that aren’t completely recyclable.
Such laws are grounded in scientific evidence that plastics are problematic because they don’t break down in the natural environment and pose a danger to wildlife and probably people.
There’s a precedent for using state and local laws to help craft national legislation: microbeads. After several states and municipalities banned the sale and manufacture of health and beauty products containing these ecologically damaging exfoliating plastic beads, the United States passed a federal act doing the same.
Most experts agree banning single-use plastic products is a more useful strategy for reducing plastic use and pollution than recycling, which is much less effective. A ban also tackles the issue at the source, helping to curb greenhouse gases coming from the rapidly expanding petrochemical industry that uses fossil fuels to produce plastic.
Commonly Used Plastics
With plastic so ubiquitous, where to start? Experts say that banning just the most commonly used and littered items could cut pollution significantly.
That puts single-use plastic bags front and center…
Besides banning common problematic single-use plastic products, the expert group also recommends Congress pass legislation that would hold corporations accountable for handling plastic waste at the end of its life.
Extended producer responsibility regulations require manufacturers of plastic products to take their items back for reuse, recycling or disposal to increase recycling rates and prevent plastic waste from entering landfills and the natural environment. Container-deposit legislation is one example of such a program that’s widespread — though not ubiquitous — around the United States.
Telesetsky says these schemes may be useful when designed to manage long-lasting plastic products, but they’re trickier to implement and incentivize when plastic packaging is involved. “The problem with applying extended producer responsibility principles to existing single-use plastic is that there is simply no market for all of the reprocessed cheap packaging plastics that are being generated,” says Telesetsky. “Cheap plastics have a finite usable life before they are inevitably landfilled or burned.”
Telesetsky praises the new briefing because it raises awareness of a critical problem. But unlike the briefing group, she proposes banning single-use plastic products outright, on a global scale, in addition to incentivizing innovation in creating new biodegradable products and packaging, which she argues would stop plastic pollution more closely to its source. And it would address the issue on what she sees as a more radical and international — and thus more impactful — scale.
Yet Stein emphasizes that while her briefing has a national focus specifically tailored to U.S. Congress, the wider view is international.
“We support international efforts to address plastic pollution, but the United States also needs to take responsibility at home for its own contribution to the problem.”
Will Congress take up that challenge?
Stein says she and other members from the UCLA-Surfrider group who traveled to Washington, D.C. in January held several legislative briefings for Congressional members and staff, including those involved with last year’s 2018 Save Our Seas Act.
The act provides some funding for federal marine cleanup and waste-prevention efforts through NOAA’s Marine Debris Program. Already, two of the bill’s cosponsors, Senators Dan Sullivan (R-AK) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), have begun working on a revamped “2.0 version.”
“Overall, we felt the reception was positive — plastic pollution is a topic that is on the minds of the American public and the congresspersons who represent them,” Stein says. “We’re hopeful that Save Our Seas 2.0 legislation in the Senate may provide a chance to think about comprehensive federal strategies to reduce plastic pollution.”