Amelia Nicol grew up in the relative isolation of Grand County, but “I’ve always had an interest in where the world is heading,” she says. When the then-twenty-year-old moved to Denver a few months ago, she got the chance to put that interest in action, shaving her hair into a Mohawk and getting involved with the city’s radical anarchist community, a cultural underground of young people who thrive off the grid, living on food scavenged from dumpsters, sleeping in houses with dozens of roommates, relying on their road bikes the way a Hells Angel depends on his Harley, and protesting the authoritarian demands of capitalism whenever possible. “I came to the 4/20 rally in April,” Nicol recalls. “I sat in the park and lit dollar bills on fire.”
On the afternoon of Friday, May 6, Nicol joined an estimated 150 other March Against Police Terror protesters in Sunken Gardens Park, where they found an impressive number of riot-geared cops waiting for them. Since they’re anarchists, the protesting groups had not applied for a permit; instead, they simply filled the streets, blocking traffic while holding giant banners of Marvin Booker and shouting, “No justice, no peace! Fuck the police!”
“The police presence was at times so overwhelming that they easily outnumbered the amount of marchers,” recalls Dave Shapiro-Strano, an organizer with Anarchist Black Cross.
The Denver Police Department had set up a staging area in the Denver Health parking lot, assigning three Rapid Deployment Vehicles to “shadow” the march, in case any mass arrests or riot control were needed. Officer Martin Tritschler, a member of the DPD Gang Unit, later testified that the department was “wanting to keep them safe, keep them from getting hit by cars.”
“It really surprised me,” says Nicol, describing the police response. “We were being peaceful, and they had police officers just lining the streets. I was like, ‘If that’s not indicative of the problem, I don’t know what is.'”
The protesters marched up to Colfax, then over to the 16th Street Mall, then down Speer Boulevard. “The march attempted to go down Santa Fe, but there was a scuffle with the police,” remembers Strano, “so we headed west toward Kalamath.”
By now the march had been going on for a few hours, and the organizers decided it was time to disperse. They began loudly chanting a countdown from ten, a tactic they’d agreed upon earlier that day; the plan was for everyone to run in different directions when the countdown got to one, confusing the police. But in the chaos of the protesters’ sprinting away, there was an explosion.
Some dismissed the sound as a cheap firework; others assumed it was an Improvised Explosive Device, or even a Molotov cocktail. “At first I thought [the police] shot a tear-gas can at us,” says Strano.
According to Tritschler, a young girl with a Mohawk had pulled out a six-inch long white tube and lit a fuse, then hurled the object at a group of officers. DPD Sergeant Thomas Sherwood was driving by in his police cruiser; the object exploded inches from his windshield.
“I was running away, and then I heard the firework go off,” remembers Nicol. “I was running down an alley, and then I heard them yell behind me, ‘Mohawk, Mohawk!’ There was a car parked at the end of the alley, and I was like, ‘Oh, fuck.'”
The cops pushed her to the pavement and bound her wrists with riot cuffs that cut into her skin. “My wrists were bleeding for days,” she says. “I still have scars.” The restraints forced her to bend her feet and legs awkwardly. “The whole time, I was like, ‘Fuck you! Do your worst!,'” Nicol remembers, “and they definitely did.”
Nicol was taken to the Van Cise-Simonet Detention Center a few blocks away. Four days later, the Denver District Attorney’s Office announced that she was being charged with two counts of attempted murder of police officers and possession of an incendiary device, among other felonies and misdemeanors. She was facing a possible prison sentence of 90 to 120 years; her bond was set at $50,000. For the first four weeks, Nicol refused any attempts to post bond.