Photos: Cries of "Shame!" as camping ban passes at tense council meeting
The mood was charged from the beginning. Even before City Council voted nine to four to approve Denver's new urban camping ordinance, one audience member made a point during the Pledge of Allegiance. During its conclusion of "peace and justice for all," he shouted "ALL!" in protest against the measure councilmen Paul Lopez and Albus Brooks later refered to as developing along the lines of a "class war." Throughout the ninety minutes council members discussed the ban, shouts against it from outside the City and County Building underscored the debate .
Big photos below.
And when the vote on the concept Brooks launched nine months ago was concluded, protesters drowned out the announcement with shouts of "Shame!" Many turned their backs on the council to symbolize their discontent, with some of those backs bearing the same message, "SHAME," as drawn in Sharpie on white T-shirts. They taped dollar bills to their mouths in protest.
Only council members Debbie Ortega, Paul Lopez, Susan Shepherd and Robin Kniech voted against the ban, which will go into effect on May 29 after it is signed by Mayor Michael Hancock within the next day.
All four opposing voters addressed the packed council chambers with concerns regarding enforcement and the city's shelter capacity. In her message, Ortega said 425 homeless individuals have died on Denver's streets in the past seven years, and she criticized the ordinance for not having the "balance" of its sit-lie predecessor. She earned the night's first standing ovation among many. The eruptions frequently compelled council president Chris Nevitt to bang his gavel and threaten audience members with expulsion if they did not quiet.
Kelsey Whipple The audience turns its back on the council's decision to pass the ban.
Shepherd, who delivered her statement through choked breath, called the ban a "great injustice and tragedy" and reminded the audience that those who voted in favor of it will be up for re-election in 2015. When asked by Nevitt to present it to the gathering, she refused the task. "One thing I've learned in nine months is that I lead with my heart, and tonight my heart is very heavy," she said. "My heart is broken." In the meantime, she told the congregation, "You have the power to hold the proponents of this bill accountable. You better watch these suckers like a hawk."
In response to Shepherd, councilman Herndon reiterated the ban's improvements over similar ordinances across the state and pointed to the one in Colorado Springs as proof of success. "My logic is fact-based," he said. Brooks blended the two ideas, saying he has lead with his head and his heart across nine months and more than seventy meetings with citizens and stakeholders.
Kelsey Whipple Protesters scribbled the Occupy Denver legal support line on their arms in case of arrest.
To stress once again the Denver Police Department's stated intention not to cite or arrest anyone for violating the ban unless in an emergency situation, Brooks read from the new protocol officers will use to train for it, which urges them not to make any arrests if shelter is unavailable -- although that suggestion does not appear in the ordinance as written. Kniech congratulated the department on the addition, but said it was not enough of a change to earn her vote.
Click through for additional photos and information from last night's emotional council meeting.