Denver Protesters to Be Sent to Warehouse for Processing

Posted August 20, 2008 at 3:54pm

Anyone arrested during the Democratic National Convention will be carted off to a warehouse on the outskirts of Denver, where officials have set up what protesters are calling another detention facility similar to the one in Guantánamo Bay.

But officials argue that establishing a temporary “processing center” is a necessary precaution with thousands of protesters expected to descend upon the city to chide Democrats. They want to avoid suits against their city similar to the ones filed against the Big Apple after the 2004 Republican convention.

The processing center is about six miles from downtown Denver in a vacant warehouse that once stored election equipment. Each cell — measuring about 20 feet by 20 feet — is contained by wire fencing.

The facility can hold about 400 people, said Lindy Eichenbaum Lent, a spokeswoman for the Denver mayor’s office.

One protester called the conditions “a bizarre assault on people’s basic rights.”

“It really does look like a kennel for animals,” said Mark Cohen, co-founder of the local group Re-create 68, which plans to protest at the convention. “Obviously, we’re concerned about people’s physical safety and well-being.”

The controversy is just the latest in months of arguments over the city’s convention plans.

All year, city officials and protest groups have debated the city’s plans for protesters, with most of the discussion focused on the city-created “demonstration zone” at the Pepsi Center, where the convention will be held. Protest groups argued the zone wasn’t close enough to the Pepsi Center, while city officials claimed security and logistical concerns made such arrangements necessary.

That issue was settled a couple of weeks ago, when a federal judge ruled that the city’s plans were acceptable and did not violate protesters’ First Amendment rights.

But recently, a local television reporter discovered the city’s “temporary processing center” and aired videos of cells topped with razor wire, kick-starting another wave of outrage from protesters.

Since then, the razor wire has been removed, and city officials are quick to point out that the processing center was still under construction when the reporter shot footage.

On Wednesday, the Denver Sheriff’s Department gave tours of the warehouse to the press and the public.

The facility, Lent said, will only hold arrested individuals while they are being processed. Then they will either post bail or be transferred to the county jail down the road.

“We’re not anticipating widespread arrests, and we certainly hope that doesn’t occur,” Lent said. “But we’re obligated to make arrangements.”

Officers will be able to process about 60 people an hour, she said, which is more than the county jail. Each person will get a brochure that outlines the procedures and provides phone numbers to groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the People’s Law Project.

But critics said the facility falls short in many ways. Though officials say that water, food, bathrooms and phones will be available, individuals will have to be escorted out of their cells by officers to reach them. Furthermore, there is no space for private meetings with attorneys; instead, arrested individuals will be able to speak to them by phone.

The ACLU of Colorado expressed doubt that the facility’s processing rate would be sufficient. It could take hours to process them all, wrote Mark Silverstein, the group’s legal director.

But Lent said the city does not intend to arrest many people. Officers have leeway on whether to arrest someone or just give them a warning.

All parties are hoping to avoid a repeat of the 2004 Republican National Convention, where about 1,800 people were arrested and spent hours being processed. In the aftermath, New York City was hit by several lawsuits and widespread criticism.