Denver’s progressive and activist community is still reeling from the one-two punch it received Monday after the Denver City Council approved the controversial ban on “urban camping” and the Colorado state legislative committee rejected a bill that would have permitted civil unions.
But despite the legislative actions that proponents on both fronts saw as an attack on civil liberties, the supporters of the two causes, which often intersected, vowed to continue their fight.
Monday evening, the City Council voted 9-4 to approve an ordinance that would make it illegal to camp on public or private land in the city without approval. The so-called “urban camping” ban was hailed by members of the Denver downtown business community who said the homeless situation downtown has hurt business and tourism. Other, including members of the Occupy Denver movement, said the bill simply criminalizes homelessness.
In a statement posted on their website this morning, members of the Occupy Denver movement said approval of the ordinance, sponsored by Councilman Albus Brooks (8th) came “to the surprise of no one” and called it a “fascist piece of legislation”.
“The Denver Police claim that this bill will be selectively enforced,” the statement read. “What that means, literally, is that if they don’t like where you are, who you are, or what you stand for, then you might be arrested.”
The organization scoffed at council members’ attempts to justify passage and viewed the efforts that will be needed to enforce the ordinance with heavy sarcasm.
“Councilwoman (Judy) Montero accused us tonight of being Hit and Run activists,” the group stated. “What is really hit and run is the ordinance itself.
The group also scoffed at Police Chief (Robert) White’s promise that the Denver Police Department will use a “light touch” in enforcing the bill. “We would like to remind the city that Denver County Jail is no day spa, in fact we’re quite sure there’s not a hot tub in the building,” the members stated.
“The Denver Police claim that this bill will be selectively enforced. What that means, literally, is that if they don’t like where you are, who you are, or what you stand for, then you might be arrested,” said Occupy Denver.
The group compared arresting the homeless for sleeping on the street “is like throwing pumpkin seeds at an oncoming bear… .”
In a telephone conversation, Antony Hebblethwaite, who identified himself as a member of Occupy Denver but was speaking as an individual, said the group may not immediately address a follow-up plan of action at their upcoming general assembly meeting but that a response to the passage of the ordinance seemed a certainty. Whether that response would be a protest march or a boycott of the members of the local business community who pushed for the ordinance, which he said has been suggested, was not clear yet, he stated.
Meanwhile, Denver’s Road Home, who had offered a compromise plan to the urban camping ban, issued a statement from Executive Director Bennie Milliner that read: “Denver’s Road Home will continue our important work in connecting our most vulnerable residents to comprehensive services and building capacity at every level to meet the long-term and short-term needs of homeless individuals and families. We will work with our partners in both the service provider and business communities to move forward with this process.”
Earlier Monday, supporters of the civil union bill said they were undaunted by its defeat in the state legislature. The bill failed to make it past the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee where it lost 5-4 on a vote that went along party lines.
It was the second time in two weeks the bill was defeated, after falling short in last week’s special session as well. Monday’s vote was the result of a special session called by Gov. John Hickenlooper after the bill failed to even reach the discussion point.
Most proponents of the measure spoke of targeting members of the legislature who fought against passage of the bill in the upcoming November elections. A post on the website of the One Colorado organization said, “They must be held accountable.”
The statement said House leaders had “abused their power once again” and added, “Time after time, they promised us a fair hearing. They didn’t keep their word, and we will not forget.”
The group said it would soon launch a campaign to “hold House leadership accountable this November. …House leadership once again pandered to the far-right fringe of their party and put partisan politics ahead of protecting Colorado families.”
It said House Speaker Frank McNulty (43rd) “has shown he is willing to do just about anything to deny our families civil unions. He is willing to abuse his power. He is willing shut down the entire Colorado House. He is even willing to kill three dozen other bills that impact every day Coloradoans simply to avoid debate on civil unions, which he knew would result in bipartisan passage.”
Rep. Mark Ferrandino (2nd), the leader of the Democrats in the House and the gay legislator who sponsored the bill, targeted Rep. McNulty in several postings on his official Twitter feed. He retweeted a post by Sen. Pat Steadman which read: “Next time you hear @RepMcNulty say “divisive social issues,” think of how his actions have divided, fractured, splintered his caucus.” The post was apparently in reference to McNulty’s accusation that Hickenlooper’s push for the civil unions bill to be debated was “divisive”.
Earlier, Ferrandino Tweeted, “McNulty fights against equality & thwarts democratic process voters will remember in Nov.” and “Walking into the Capitol this morning & I see this (picture). it’s what @RepMcNulty did to equal rights.” The Tweet included a link to a photo of a handmade “Civil Unions” sign that had been tossed in a garbage can.
Farrandino also Tweeted that the fight for civil unions was no over. “Thank you to so many people for your support & encouragement the past few weeks. We will keep fighting to equality and #civilunions”.
On Tuesday morning, Mayor Hancock issued a statement saying he was “disappointed” in the failure of the bill to make it out of committee but added “the march towards equality for every Coloradan does not end here.
“Those of us who are committed to liberty and justice for all will not rest. Our support will only grow and our resolve will only strengthen in this fight to extend long overdue equal rights to same-sex couples. …We must not waiver and we must never give up. Equal rights for all will prevail.”