Colorado Rights Blog

ACLU of Colorado By: ACLU of Colorado 7.22.2015

The Mall is for All

(This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post website at

A recent article in the Denver Post raised concerns about whether enough people “linger” on the 16th Street Mall in downtown Denver. The role of the shuttles, the types of shops on the mall, and the overall environment of the mall are among factors under consideration. The focus of the article was not primarily about security or the types of people who spend time on the mall.

Nevertheless, a follow-up Denver Post editorial places blame on “transients, vagrants, panhandlers and pot users” who “congregate” on the mall, apparently spending too long there. “Lingering” is only to be desired, it seems, for a subset of the public. I suspect that the line between “lingering” and “loitering” is primarily a function of money and appearance. But the right of access to public spaces belongs to the whole public, not just a part of it.

The editorial acknowledges that security concerns are not the only reason people may not linger more on the mall, and that in fact safety concerns are more a matter of perception than reality. The mall is “hardly a hotbed of criminal activity.” But because people “act on their perceptions,” the editorial suggests that “police could definitely be a more visible presence on the mall.”

Whatever else we do, it’s a bad idea to bring in more police simply to address people’s perceptions, not reality. It could backfire, too. Rather than providing reassurance, a heavy police presence could give the impression that the mall must be awfully dangerous to require so many police. It might also lead to more profiling, more unnecessary arrests for minor charges, or more harassment of people who are homeless or look like they might be.

In reality, people without a home who seek help or refuge in public places are in a vulnerable spot, far more likely to be victims of crime than a threat to others. Nonaggressive panhandling is protected speech under the First Amendment, sending a message not only about individual need but also about the worth of each person and the failures of our social structures. Our response should be to seek better ways to meet human need, not to attempt to drive away or hide from sight the people who remind us of those needs.

In any case, “vagrants” or “transients” are likely not the primary cause of insufficient “lingering” on the 16th Street Mall. The free shuttle on the mall was designed to be a key link in our public transportation system, and it fulfills that role well. The mall should be expected to have a higher rate of people simply passing through than a place not designed for that purpose.

New York City thrives as a tourist destination despite being far grittier, more diverse, and filled with greater extremes of wealth and visible poverty than the 16th Street Mall in Denver. Building on the attractions of the mall might help it more than cracking down on people identified as undesirable. We certainly should not want to replicate the racially-biased policing and excessive use of practices such as stop-and-frisk that New York is finally moving away from.

When I go to the 16th Street Mall, I find it a bustling urban corridor, a welcoming place to grab a bite to eat, and a very helpful way to get around downtown. Sometimes it is my destination and sometimes not. Either way, I have never felt unsafe. I may feel discomfort around the reality of poverty and homelessness if I see people asking for help, but that can happen anywhere, and it may be a message I need to hear. In any case, simple discomfort is not a justification for violating human rights, calling in the police, or keeping the public out of public spaces.



  • Cedric Watkins is a father, uncle, entrepreneur-in-training, and a vital community pillar for many others. While behind bars, he has tirelessly devoted himself to serving his peers and his community. He developed gang disaffiliation programs for other incarcerated individuals and is currently involved with Defy Ventures. He sends letters and calls his daughter as much as he can.

    Cedric is currently in prison at Sterling Correctional Facility. He was convicted of aggravated robbery, burglary, kidnapping, theft and sentenced to 80 years; no one was seriously injured or killed. For comparison, a person convicted of second-degree murder in Colorado faces a maximum sentence of 48 years. Cedric has already served 20 years and has fully rehabilitated during that time.

    It’s time to bring Cedric home: Redemption is real. Clemency is compassion.

  • On November 21, 2016, 13 Aurora police officers responded to a simple noise complaint at Alberto Torres’s home. As happens all too often, Aurora police officers escalated this minor issue into a brutal affair. They beat Mr. Torres solely because he delayed exiting his garage to ask his wife to interpret for him. With that beating, the lives of Mr. Torres and every member of his family were changed and he has yet to recover. ACLU of Colorado fought to obtain justice for Mr. Torres, and Aurora has now paid him $285,000. But money is not justice, and the brutality of the Aurora Police Department against people of color has continued unabated.

    It doesn’t have to be this way.

    Imagine, if instead of 13 officers being dispatched to Mr. Torres’s home for a noise complaint, the City of Aurora sent a civilian-led response team to check on his welfare and ask that he and his friends lower their sound, resulting in a non-violent solution to a minor issue?

    ACLU Settles Case With Aurora After Police Brutalize and Unlawfully Arrest Alberto Torres

  • Hope is a discipline. It’s a commitment that together, we can create a more perfect union. We won’t rest until we fulfill the promise of equal rights for ALL people in the United States.

    Join us in our fight to fulfill this promise and move forward with hope by donating to the ACLU of Colorado. Your donation supports the ACLU’s strengths that make our work effective and collaborative.

    Donate now at

  • Anthony Martinez is 84-years-old and suffering from renal failure, as well as other serious medical conditions including dementia. He is currently incarcerated in the Sterling Correctional Facility, site of one of Colorado’s largest COVID-19 outbreaks with almost 600 active COVID-19 cases. He and his family are understandably terrified that he will catch the virus and die.

    In the midst of this public health crisis, incarcerated people as vulnerable as Anthony, could and should be immediately released to safely live out their remaining years with family.

    Read more about Anthony Martinez and other at-risk incarcerated people.