DENVER — Gov. Jared Polis (D-Colorado) said he wants to work with the hundreds of protesters who gathered in downtown Denver over the weekend to make a statement against police brutality in wake of the in-custody death of Minneapolis man George Floyd.
“To those who are peacefully protesting, I want you to know, I see you, I hear you, I grieve with you, and most importantly, I want to work with you,” the governor said, adding that he acknowledged Floyd’s death was indicative of a pattern of systemic injustice.
Polis also spoke out against the small group of demonstrators involved with clashes with police and vandalism that has led to graffiti and shattered windows in downtown Denver.
“It’s unfortunate that the destruction of property that’s been committed has distracted from pure reform,” Polis said. “That property can be cleaned, but the black lives that were taken cannot be replaced or brought back.”
A news conference on Tuesday afternoon was the first time Polis spoke on-camera about the protests, which have occurred throughout the country following Floyd’s death on May 25. Videos show an officer who has since been fired and charged with third-degree murder kneeling on the 46-year-old’s neck while he was heard saying, “I can’t breathe.”
Polis said he watched those videos, and though he’s been largely silent, has been listening to leaders in the movement, as well as Denver Mayor Michael Hancock.
He condemned statements from President Donald Trump, who has called for the nation’s governors to crack down on the protests.
“This is not China,” Polis said. “This is not Tiananmen Square. And that’s not leadership.”
Polis stopped short of saying he would attend the protests himself, saying his job was to listen and to set a good example about social distancing in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He also encouraged the hundreds of people at the protests to get tested for COVID-19, admitted he was worried the large gathering could lead to an outbreak of the coronavirus down the road.
“One of my greatest fears in watching the events over the last weekend is that so many people gathering in one place together will increase the spread of coronavirus across our nation and here in Colorado,” Polis said.
The free testing at the Pepsi Center has now been expanded for anyone who was at the protests and potentially exposed. Polis told protesters to wait seven days after they were in the crowd before getting tested for coronavirus.
It will take up to 14 days to determine if there was an outbreak as a result of the gathering.
“We need to remember that we’re dealing with a global pandemic,” Polis said.
The governor also used his Tuesday news conference to announce that 800 contact tracers will be coming to Colorado from Americorps and Senior Corps. They’ll be in charge of monitoring the interactions of people who have tested positive for COVID-19.
This comes as the state loosens more restrictions to allow the tourism industry to slowly reopen, as well as people to once again visit pools and playgrounds.
Health officials are also currently evaluating proposals to allow Gilpin and Teller county to reopen casinos.
Sports leagues of up to 25 people are also now allowed under the modified safer-at-home order, even as the latest models show Coloradans will have to continue social distancing at a high level to make sure COVID-19 patients don’t overwhelm area hospitals.
SUGGESTED VIDEOS: Local stories from 9NEWS