In his first public remarks since protests erupted over the alleged murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, Gov. Jared Polis condemned the officers involved and expressed his sympathy with demonstrators.
“What happened to George Floyd was not only wrong. It was brutal, it was inhumane and it was murder,” Polis said.
The officer who pinned Floyd with his knee, causing Floyd's death, has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.
The remarks came five days after the demonstrations began outside the state capitol in Denver. When asked why it’s taken him so long to offer any spoken remarks, the governor said he has been in “listening mode” to understand the situation and develop a clear response.
At the request of Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, Polis has called in the National Guard to respond to the protestors. In a statement announcing the decision on Saturday, the governor focused on the damage caused by some demonstrators. He struck a different tone in his press conference, focusing instead on the permanence of police violence.
“Spray paint can be power washed, but the Black lives that are taken can not be replaced or brought back,” he said.
While he praised Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen for marching with demonstrators on Monday, he said he would not be joining the demonstration against police violence himself. The governor expressed support for people expressing their First Amendment rights, including protesters who rallied in opposition to his stay-at-home order.
The governor also provided his regular update about Colorado’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He quickly noted the connection to the protest movement, which many public health experts worried could further spread the disease across the state.
Despite the risk, he acknowledges for many people, “it is not possible to stay home, it is not possible to stay silent.”
Polis said it’s certain some protesters carried the virus. He encouraged demonstrators to stay more at least six feet from others and to wear a mask. On top of that, he said anyone who attended a protest should be screened for the disease seven days afterward at one of the state’s free testing sites.
The governor also discussed his decision to extend and update Colorado’s safer-at-home order through July 1. The new version lifts the rules asking all Coloradans over 65-years-old to stay home. Other revisions reopened short-term rentals properties book through companies like Airbnb and VRBO.
The order expires after 30 days.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct George Floyd's name.