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CO: Outside the big debate, it’s haves vs. have nots

By   /   October 3, 2012  /   No Comments

By Tori Richards | Colorado Watchdog

DENVER – Concrete barricades and chain-link fencing have cordoned off an area of no-man’s land where armed guards patrol.

This is the scenario at the University of Denver, where the forbidding landscape separates the lucky thousands attending the presidential debate from the rest of the population. Classes have been canceled today. A freeway going through southern Denver is closed. Many outlying businesses have given up and shut their doors, as well.

The first debate between President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney has come to a university sports arena, and with it security of untold proportions – local, state and federal officials. Their total number is secret.

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“It seems like there’s a lot of cops and they’re literally walking around in all the alleys,” nearby resident Todd Nine told CBS Denver. Residents who live in the perimeter have been greeted with k-rail and fencing for the past few mornings when they opened their front doors.  And some student housing complexes have not one but two fences keeping the masses at bay.

Across the street from the school is yet another fenced-in area, but this one has a name — the Free Speech Zone. It was set up as a staging area for protesters and anyone else who wants to have a view of the campus from afar. That may be well and good for some, but is you ask the Occupy Denver movement, they will be skipping that and opting to get up close and personal.

“If we can march peacefully up to the front door, we will,” said Brett Starr, one of the leaders of Occupy Denver. “The approach Occupy takes is, get as close as you can. Where we end up depends on what type of resistance we get from the Denver Police Department and how violent they are.”

The group even posted instructions on its Facebook page to meet five hours before the debate at a nearby park saying, “DO NOT GO INTO THE  ‘FREE SPEECH ZONE’  THE WORLD IS OUR FREE SPEECH ZONE!”

The participants will bring mobile sound systems, banners and noisemakers and plan on demonstrating in the streets, Starr said.

Also in attendance? Green Party candidate Jill Stein, who was not invited to be part of the debate. Press reports stated the Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson could join them, as well.

“Occupy Denver recognizes the entire landmass of the U.S. as being our free speech zone,” Starr said. “We will practice free speech anywhere in the zone.”

Denver police Detective John White said officers are encouraging protestors to act in a peaceful manner and use the Free Speech Zone, an area some of the protestors call a “prison.”

“Anyone wants to go in there, that area is open to them,” he said. “We hopefully will have no arrests but clearly we have to be prepared.”

Contact Tori Richards at tori@coloradowatchdog.org

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Tori Richards is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated reporter who has covered some of the biggest news in the world during her 25 years in the business. She has also won a dozen national and local writing awards for her coverage of the judicial system. Richards has worked for CBS News, Bloomberg, Reuters. Agence-France Presse, the NY Post, the NY Times and The Daily among others. Her work has also appeared on CNN.com, FoxNews.com and US News & World Report. Some of her biggest stories included the cases of OJ Simpson, Michael Jackson, the Aryan Brotherhood and the Night Stalker.