The Denver City Council on Monday rejected a proclamation that would have added Denver to the growing list of American cities that have called for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.
That final vote — 8-4 — came via a hastily launched virtual meeting after council members vacated the council chamber at the Denver City and County Building following repeated disruptions of the meeting by pro-Palestinian demonstrators. Councilman Chris Hinds was unable to cast a vote due to issues logging into the online meeting.
Once the final vote was tallied and the results were shown on screens inside the room, the protesters — who numbered in the hundreds between the main chamber and overflow room — rallied in the building’s fourth-floor corridor. Chants included “Cease-fire now.” “Free, free Palestine” and “Vote them out.”
“We’re super disappointed but I don’t think it’s a surprise,” Emily Ingraham, one of the protesters who spoke in favor of the proclamation on Monday night, said after the final vote. “But there is always hope and we are going to keep fighting.”
The proclamation would have been a symbolic measure that would have been stamped with the city seal and forwarded to President Joe Biden and members of Colorado’s congressional delegation if approved.
The version the council voted on Monday was significantly pared down compared to a longer original draft that co-sponsors Sarah Parady and Shontel Lewis, two of the council’s most progressive members, discussed with colleagues at a committee hearing last month.
It outlined action steps already released by the United Nations Children’s Fund, or UNICEF. Those included calls for “an immediate and long-lasting humanitarian ceasefire” in Palestine and Israel and “[s]afe and unrestricted humanitarian access to and within the Gaza Strip to reach affected populations wherever they are.”
“The cease-fire is the floor. We are asking for liberation,” Lewis said in comments that drew cheers from the chamber. “None of us are free unless all of us are free.”
Despite the narrowed language, opponents on the council noted they have received extensive comments from constituents who support Israel that were not reflected in that draft.
“I think that our communities deserve better from us as elected officials,” said District 5 Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer, who revealed during a committee meeting last month that she has a neighbor serving in the Israeli military. “We are divided up in a way that I haven’t seen us be divided in a very, very long time.”
One council member — District 7 representative Flor Alvidrez — indicated that her no vote was motivated in part by the behavior of the pro-Palestinian attendees at the meeting who regularly interrupted speakers they disagreed with.
During the public comment session, several speakers called out rising incidences of antisemitism in Denver and around the country.
One speaker, Elliot Fladen, said the proclamation “doesn’t call for peace, it calls for cessation that will allow Hamas to re-arm.”
Parady addressed antisemitism directly as she laid the case for calling for a cease-fire.
“I am here today to say that the killing in Gaza must stop, and I will be here tomorrow to say that we have to grapple with resurgent antisemitism and the fomentation of bigotry in our politics,” she said.
Parady, Lewis, and Councilmembers Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez and Jamie Torres voted in favor. Other politicians in the room Monday included progressive state Reps. Elisabeth Epps and Tim Hernandez.
The proclamation language included estimated death tolls from the conflict to date. They largely follow the latest reporting from The Associated Press, which counts the Palestinian losses from the war at more than 28,000 people, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza. Of those, more than 12,000 are children.
The war was ignited by Hamas’ surprise attack on Israel on Oct. 7. Hamas killed about 1,200 people, a majority of them civilians, and took 250 hostages. According to Israeli authorities, about 100 hostages are still being held by Hamas, The AP reports.
Monday’s meeting was tense even before the cease-fire proclamation was called up. Earlier in the afternoon, the council tried and failed to override Mayor Mike Johnston’s veto of a measure that would have banned sweeps of homeless encampments when temperatures are below freezing. One supporter of that measure, Jerry Burton, got up and shouted at the council members after that vote and was flanked by a Denver sheriff deputy as he walked into the hall. Many protesters Monday were there to support both measures.
Monday was the second time in four months that pro-Palestinian demonstrators have altered the direction of a Denver City Council meeting. In late November, the council walked out of its chambers and postponed the rest of its agenda after protesters refused to stop speaking out against Denver hosting the Global Conference for Israel at the Colorado Convention Center later that week.
Other major American cities have recently passed measures calling for a cease-fire in Gaza including Chicago, San Francisco and Atlanta. In Minneapolis, the City Council overrode a veto by Mayor Jacob Frey, who is Jewish, last week to reinstate a cease-fire resolution.
That measure goes much further than the proclamation that was rejected in Denver on Monday. It called for the U.S. to stop funding the Israeli military.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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