COLORADO SPRINGS –– Protests continue for a second straight day in Denver and demonstrators promise to spread their message over the weekend as well, in support of George Floyd, the black man prosecutors in Minnesota say was murdered by a police officer.
The protests blocked I-25 in Downtown Denver, swarmed the State Capitol Building, Denver City & County Courthouse and has left vandalism (which protest organizers disavow) in its wake.
“Racism is nothing new. Its intensified under the global pandemic that we are already living under and its uncertainty,” says Stephany Rose Spaulding the chair of the Ethnic and Women’s Studies program at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs.
The death of Floyd, Spaulding says, adds to the emotional distress that came with the release of a video showing the murder of Amhaud Arbery in Georgia and the officer-involved shooting death of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, KY.
“We desire to do better and better practices for citizens to feel safe in our community,” she said. “It’s not just black people in Colorado who are feeling it. If you look at the protest from [Thursday], people across the board are fed up with the way policing is handled in this country.”
In Colorado, Denver and Aurora are ranked among the cities with the highest number of police killings, with 1.47 and 1.4 deaths per 100,000 people, respectively, in an analysis of 2018 conducted by security.org.
That study found white people are significantly less likely to be killed by police in Colorado. Per 100,000 deaths, the organization found 1.58 black people were killed by police, 1.46 Asain Americans, 3.16 Native American, .87 Hispanics, and .57 white people were killed by police in Colorado.
“We could look at injustices in Denver, Aurora, in Pueblo–my community–, in Colorado Springs. They are happening and they are happening at a frequency that is unacceptable,” said Sen. Leroy Garcia.
The annual review by the Colorado Department of Public Safety Division of Criminal Justice found in June 2018-June 2019, 49 percent of officer-involved shootings ended in the suspect’s death. Of those who survived, 87 percent were arrested for a crime.
A Democrat from Pueblo and the State’s Senate President, Garcia’s truck’s windows were broken, and tires slashed during Thursday’s demonstrations.
An Iraqi War Veteran Garcia says there is never an excuse for violence, but he’s more focused on the message of the whole group, rather than the actions of the most destructive few.
“What we see is this disassociation of communities not wanting to trust law enforcement and for rightful reasons,” he said.
Among the most high profile, officer-involved shootings in Colorado in 2019 was the death of 19-year-old De’Von Bailey, a black man who was armed with a pistol and shot in the back as he turned to run from police. The officers were cleared by a Grand Jury and FBI in an incident that lasted less than 50 seconds from the time the first officer got out of his car until the time two officer’s guns stopped firing.
“They’re being ignored. These aren’t riots, these are rebellions, and that’s what they need to understand,” Shaun Walls said of the demonstrations in Minneapolis that have covered parts of the city since Floyd’s death.
Walls organized protests and petitions following Bailey’s death in August of last year. He now is a board member at the Chinook Center in Colorado Springs, an organization dealing in community research and social change.
“We’ve been begging, protesting, marching, getting petitions. We had a 2,000 person signature petition signed. It’s just ignored,” Walls said.
The petition, albeit an online one, was requesting the City of Colorado Springs develop an independent review board or monitor to look at incidents where police use force in the city.
In a statement posted in full at the bottom of this article, CSPD says, the current process is effective and are concerned with civilians reviewing officer’s decisions is people need to know what an officer is going through.
“We’ve seen it help across the country. We need the city to explore accountability measures,” Spaulding said.
She believes the country needs to establish a federal truth and conciliation commission to understand how different systems in the United States are operating based on the same racial bias rooted in the country.
Garcia believes the solution can start within the department of law enforcement. He wants a continuous evaluation of officer’s ethics, values, and temperaments. He says, those reviews are often conducted early on in an officer’s career but should continue as long as an officer wears a badge.
“A great deal of them put on that uniform, take the oath and take it very seriously and are out there to do the right thing, but they have an obligation to weed out the officers who lack integrity before they erode the profession,” he said.
A request for an interview was not feasible in the time frame given for CSPD but they sent responses to the following questions:
What is CSPD’s response to the actions of Minnesota Police Officer Derek Chauvin and subsequent charges? Are those holds used on George Floyd seen in the video practiced by CSPD?
CSPD Chief Vince Niski will be issuing a statement from the department shortly.
What has CSPD recently done to try to build trust with the city’s black communities?
“The Colorado Springs Police Department is proactive in fostering relationships between all members of the community and our department through educating, listening, and effectively communicating. We are currently in the process of developing a new group that represents all parts of our community to help guide the department moving forward. We are also active in the Illumination Project, which is aimed at strengthening and broadening the collaboration between the Colorado Springs Police Department and the residents of the community they serve. Members of the Colorado Springs community are invited to attend these listening sessions which will be facilitated by community members and faculty from the Center for Creative Leadership. During the sessions, residents have the opportunity to engage with their local police force and other community leaders to discuss the experiences they’ve had, challenges they’ve faced, and practices they can work together to adopt in the future. By addressing concerns, celebrating successes, and deepening trust between the police and the community, we can make our city stronger together.”
Would the community benefit from a citizen review or external review committee or board when CSPD officers use deadly force?
“We believe the process already in place to investigate officer-involved shootings is effective and beneficial for our community. Not only does it follow the law, but also by our department fully handing over the investigation to an outside/independent investigating agency, we ensure a thorough and fair investigation is completed. At the end of the investigation, the findings are sent to the District Attorney’s Office (or a Grand Jury) for another independent layer for review. A large concern with civilian review boards is that we believe it is imperative that someone needs to know what an officer goes through before someone can oversee, criticize, and examine what they do. Additionally, there is data out there that shows civilian review panels can actually be more lenient with discipline than their own department.”