Candace Bailey energizes protestors June 2, 2020, during a peaceful protest at the Aurora Municipal Center. In addressing the crowd, Bailey told younger protestors that she would happily teach them the steps necessary to have a civic impact. (Photo by Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado)

Imagine, for a moment, that you are a black man or woman living in America in 2020. How could you not believe that racism kills?

If you are black, you need not imagine anything. You know it very well.

You don’t need to see the video of George Floyd, a police officer’s knee on his neck as he struggled for his dying breaths, to know that black people are three times more likely to be killed by police than are white people.

You don’t need to hear the racial statistics on COVID-19 to know that black people have been affected disproportionately — the same is true of eight of the 10 leading causes of death in the United States. Even before the pandemic, black life expectancy was 3½ years shorter than white.

Many black residents are redlined into densely packed, crime-ridden urban areas. Stuck in underfinanced, substandard schools. Subjected to silent environmental catastrophes, like lead hidden in pipes and on walls.

“It’s not just how could you not believe that racism is killing you if you are black,” said Brittany Packnett Cunningham, founder of Campaign Zero, which fights police brutality. “How could anybody not realize the lethal nature of racism?”

This is all true 401 years after the arrival of the first slaves on these shores, 155 years after they were emancipated, and more than five decades after the passage of the voting rights acts. If white people are surprised, Cunningham said, it is only because they view the world through rose-colored, Caucasian glasses.

“I think white people were spared the truth of what was happening so they could believe there was progress being made,” she said.

But recent events like the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis and of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man chased and killed by armed white men as he jogged through a south Georgia neighborhood, could not be ignored.

Especially because there was video.

“There’s something about seeing a dead body on the ground,” said Rashawn Ray, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland and fellow at The Brookings Institution.

For many black people, the line between  police brutality and their sufferings in the COVID-19 pandemic is not a  tenuous one.

Here are some comments of a wide range of residents in and near Aurora about systemic racism, racial protests and the effect on the community.

— Sentinel and Associated Press

State Rep. Jovan Melton

Just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, state Rep. Jovan Melton, a Democrat in west Aurora, was in the middle of negotiations with the state attorney general’s office and stakeholders about a bill that would establish a statewide independent monitor for police encounters that result in death.

Jovan Melton speaks during the Democratic watch party on Nov. 8, 2016, at Radisson Hotel Denver Southeast. (File photo by Gabriel Christus/Sentinel Colorado)

“The standard of justice shouldn’t be different if you’re in Aurora or in Denver,” Melton said of his bill that, if passed, would have provided a resource to communities without independent police oversight. “That’s going to the heart of this double standard that people are frustrated with. If we can eliminate that double standard it will bring some justice and some calm.”

Melton didn’t introduce the bill this year. Instead, state Senator Rhonda Fields and other lawmakers floated a bill to establish independent review of police at a raucous rally June 2 at the Capitol in Denver.

“We have a long way to go and this has been a problem for generations, long before I entered office,” Melton, who said he’s faced pushback from Aurora police in the past for just wanting to have a conversation about policing and race, told the Sentinel. “When I first entered office we were dealing with the Eric Gardner situation and Marvin Booker in Denver, him dying in a jail.”

Two years after he was elected, chokeholds were officially banned as a policing tactic in Colorado. Melton sponsored that bill in 2015, but it was first introduced in the 80s by former Rep. Wilma Webb, the wife of former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb.

“It takes a long time to get the progress we need,” Melton said, highlighting that today’s protests are both a blessing and a curse. The COVID-19 crisis has created an engaged audience, as gatherings have mostly been canceled and people are stuck at home, forced to confront the issue.

That’s the blessing of this timing.

“But our city governments are seeing cuts, our county governments are seeing cuts,” he said. “Even though we have this great captive audience that is crying out for change…we don’t have the resources to implement it.”

— KARA MASON, Staff Writer


The McClain family’s attorney, Mari Newman, right, hugs Elijah McClain’s mother, Sheneen McClain, during a press conference on Nov. 23, 2019, at the Aurora Municipal Center, after the Aurora Police Department released the body camera footage of Elijah McClain the previous evening. (Photo by Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado)

Sheneen McClain, mother of Elijah McClain

A combination of police restraints and an injection of ketamine by Aurora first responders killed Sheneen McClain’s son, Elijah, in August 2019.

His name has since become a rallying cry for community members demanding justice and accountability for his death. Dave Young, the district attorney for the 17th Judicial District, declined in November to charge the officers involved for any crimes. Protests and fiery testimonies regularly rocked city hall but were far from the thousands-strong civil uprisings seen this week in Denver.

In a message to a reporter, McClain said she could not comment on the George Floyd tragedy.

“I cannot speak on George’s death because Colorado didn’t care about Elijah’s death,” McClain said. “Selective Protesting. Colorado fails i(n) accountability for their own residents but urges justice for someone in a different ZIP Code.

— GRANT STRINGER, Staff Writer


 

Toli Geshow, future Howard University student

When he was 8 years old and just playing football with his friends, Toli Geshow got a confusing lesson.

The recent Rangeview High School graduate remembers well how differently his white friend was treated when police arrived after they were called about Geshow’s group playing football on a field it didn’t believe was on private property.

Geshow and his four other African-American friends and the one white member of the group had completely different experiences from the same event, and it opened his eyes.

“The crazy part of the interaction is how they talked to us compared with our one white friend,” Geshow recalled. “He was scared, and so were we, but they were comforting him and there was a lot of verbal confrontation with the rest of us. It was the first time I became aware of racism because in my elementary school it was all sugarcoated and downplayed. I didn’t really understand social injustice until middle school.”

He’s become more aware of the harsh realities of the world around him as he’s gotten older and done what he could, including joining the Social Justice club for his last two years at Rangeview.

Geshow took part in the peaceful portion of a recent protest in Downtown Denver along with several of his classmates and came away hopeful for change.

His greatest hope is that true reform in police forces across the country will come of recent events.

“Even without the murders that have happened, there are countless that haven’t been posted,” Geshow said. “So until that reform is made, the police won’t change, which means the reality will be as it has been for decades.”

Geshow also hopes people who have long held racist views — such as the old white woman in Aurora who randomly asked him and his friends about “all the cottonpickers that have been killed lately” — will come to a new realization.

“Aurora is such a diverse city, yet there is still a percentage of individuals that are still igniting the flames of racial injustice,” he said. “An additional hope I have is that for the people that do not see the issues, I hope the light shines in their direction and they can see the problems and help us make a change.”

Geshow is now headed to Howard University, where he plans to double-major in international business and accounting and minor in journalism.

COURTNEY OAKES, Staff Writer


 

April Young speaks to those in attendance at a community forum where Aurora community members gathered to discuss the death of Elijah McClain on Dec. 10, 2019, at Restoration Christian Fellowship. (Photo by Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado)

April Young, activist

A regular at protests for Elijah McClain, Aurora activist April Young has now found herself in a hospital bed.

Her affliction likely isn’t the novel coronavirus, she said. But she’s not sure what is wrong with her as of June 2. Young has been ill for days now with breathing and hearing issues after Denver police officers lobbed four stun grenades that exploded around her, she said.

That pulled Young out of the Denver civil unrest. But with a hoarse voice, Young echoed calls for systemic change.

“The one thing that could resolve — I don’t know if you can resolve a death. But one thing that can really mend community relations with police is systemic change,” she said. “No longer making it OK to say, if someone felt threatened, they are OK to take a life,” Young said, referring to police officers.

Young also called for a 360-degree view of Aurora’s criminal justice system to install some real accountability and power for the community —“Not bulls**t of chiefs going hand-in-hand with protesters, like PR stunts,” Young said, referring to Denver police officials marching with protesters June 1. Aurora police interim chief, Vanessa Wilson, later knelt with peaceful protesters in Aurora June 2.

— GRANT STRINGER, Staff Writer


State Rep. Janet Buckner

Janet Buckner can’t swim. She has a fear of water.

The Democratic Aurora state representative told the story of almost drowning in a public swimming pool when she was a little girl during a speech in support of a resolution honoring Martin Luther King Jr. in 2018.

“I was halfway down the pool and two white boys called me the n-word,” she said, fighting back tears, during that address to fellow legislators. “I stopped swimming. I went down to the bottom of the pool, and I almost drowned.”

State Rep. Janet Buckner, D-Aurora

Buckner has been candid about her experiences with racism, but the legislator told the Sentinel the death of George Floyd is so much different than anything that’s caused upheaval before.

“The death of George Floyd was so brutal and so visible and he didn’t have to die. It’s really opened a lot of wounds, but it’s started a lot of generational conversation about race and inequality,” she said. “We have to talk about it.”

In 2018, when Buckner talked about her day at the pool, she said the same thing: “I don’t want my three granddaughters to go through what I went through. That’s why we have to talk, people.”

But there comes a point when it’s time to act and change policy.

“We need to ensure police wear their video cams, excessive force isn’t used, and we hold police officers accountable for their actions, we improve training for police officers. We need to improve the training,” she said, highlighting the efforts of a bill introduced by her colleague state Rep. Leslie Herod earlier in the day. “I really think the only thing that is going to make a difference is policy. That’s going to be the key.”

KARA MASON, Staff Writer


 

Barbara Shannon-Banister, then Community relations division chief with the City of Aurora, stands by as former U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman as he speaks during a 2016 wreath-laying ceremony at Martin Luther King Jr. Library. Shannon-Banister is a new member of the city’s Civil Service Commission, while Coffman is now Aurora’s mayor. (File photo by Gabriel Christus/Sentinel Colorado)

Barbara Shannon-Banister, city activist

Barbara Shannon-Banister is no stranger to protests.

In the late 1960s, she and her late husband, Gaurdie, were community anchors in Laramie, Wyoming, when 14 black football players were kicked off their college team for attempting to wear black arm bands to protest during a game.

In the early 1990s, Aurora city leaders called on her to quell tensions when local teens ransacked a local shopping mall following the L.A. riots.

Then there was the time she unintentionally rode the city hall elevator with notorious neo-Nazi Shawn Slater as he was on his way to pick up a permit to protest the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Marade — an event which Shannon-Banister has long helped organize.

But the longtime head of the city’s community relations division says there’s no one upshot to the protests that have rippled across America since George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police.

This has been going on since I was in elementary school when Emmett Till was killed in the South, and then for us, the Aurora Key Community Response Team is from Rodney King — that’s why we have AKCRT,” said Shannon-Banister, who was sworn in as one of the newest members of the city’s Civil Service Commission earlier this year. “I think there’s just so many pieces to this puzzle, but it’s a puzzle for all of us — not just for people of color and not just for black folks.”

— QUINCY SNOWDON, Staff Writer


 

Longtime Grandview assistant football coach Desmond Davis said he believed America was a “powder keg” already and that the murders of African-Americans Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd were the match that ignited the call for racial equality. He is hopeful that conversations can now be had that can produce real progress. (File photo by Courtney Oakes/Sentinel Colorado)

Desmond Davis, teacher and coach

Desmond Davis believes the fire for racial equality in this country has been ignited and he hopes it won’t go out this time.

The longtime educator and African-American assistant football coach at Grandview High School watched the recent racially-charged incidents that resulted in multiple deaths of innocent black people and the outrage that followed, which brought longstanding frustrations to a head.

“I believe the country was a powder keg and Ahmaud Arbery (who was killed in Georgia on Feb. 23) and George Floyd (who died at the hands of police in Minneapolis May 25) were the match,” Davis said. “I think we’re tired of it.”

Davis has experienced a range of emotions in recent days, as he has felt “angry, frustrated and sad.” He clenches the steering wheel of his car in fear when police officers are around, not knowing when a seemingly innocuous traffic stop could turn into something else.

He is much more than a football coach to his players, especially to minorities, who he is trying to counsel to the best of his ability even as they are hurting significantly. He was once their age and faced similar obstacles, though in a time less primed for change than now.

“I grew up in Littleton Public Schools and got called the ‘N-word’ a lot, so my experience is not very trustful,” said Davis, who went on to attend Mullen High School. “I don’t trust that much.”

Davis believes the combination of the coronavirus pandemic, rampant unemployment and racial tension has created an atmosphere that actually could produce change, which is his biggest hope of what comes out of recent tragedy.

“I am hopeful that we can have those courageous conversations, without reservations,” Davis said. “There are a lot of things at work here. This country was built on racism and built on slavery. It’s a perfect opportunity to talk about some things in our community and our world that can lead us to common ground.”

— COURTNEY OAKES, Staff Writer


 

Pastor Thomas Mayes of Living Water Christian Center Church in Aurora. (File photo by Marla R. Keown/Sentinel Colorado)

Thomas Mayes, pastor

For Thomas Mayes, change comes from a dais, a gold dome or a federal camera.

The longtime senior pastor at Living Water Christian Center in north Aurora says he’s optimistic the recent tumult across the country will force people to pay more attention to all manner of elections — from those for county sheriff to the presidency.

“We nonchalantly vote for everything until we get to president, and then we vote for president thinking that will make a change,” Mayes said. “And that’s not it.”

He said necessary criminal justice reform must cascade down the levels of government, a process that could be expedited if people paid closer attention to local elections.

“You can’t legislate love, but you can legislate justice,” said Mayes, who ran for Aurora City Council himself in 2019. “It’s going to be at the ballot box, not just this November but in every election. We’ve got to be more careful about our judgment and choosing who our leaders are.”

In general, Mayes said there is a dearth of leaders in Aurora and across the country. Locally, he said a cacophony of voices blend together to muddle the message.

“We have a country, a state and a city that lacks leadership,” Mayes said. “We need a voice. We don’t have a spokesperson for our city — everyone just passes the buck. We need someone who will lead: someone with a voice, someone with integrity.”

— QUINCY SNOWDON, Staff Writer


Omar Montgomery. (Photo by Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado)

Omar Montgomery, NAACP president

Omar Montgomery is familiar with policing of black residents. He’s a former mayoral candidate in Aurora, president of the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and a black man. He said he’s endured scores of encounters with police during his lifetime. Police have even pointed guns at him needlessly, he said.

So Montgomery said people in the Denver metro have responded differently to the sight of Minneapolis Police Department officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck until the latter was dead.

“Until you live that trauma daily….you can’t understand when you see something where a police officer is on someone’s neck,” Montgomery said.

Montgomery said residents need “systemic change” to how they experience policing. The city never got real resolution to the Elijah McClain case in particular, he said.

But Denver and Aurora residents managed to spur at least discussion of police accountability and the possibility of an independent oversight board creating consequences for cops who kill. City Council meetings in particular saw regular protests demanding justice and some policy changes Montgomery says are much needed: electing district attorneys who commit to prosecuting violent police officers; removing military-style weaponry from Aurora police; and mitigating the “school to prison pipeline” criminalizing kids for relatively minor offenses, he said.

“I think Aurora has the perfect situation for systemic change,” Montgomery said.

— GRANT STRINGER, Staff Writer


Rangeview’s top team from left, Humberto Caloca, Devon Harris, Onyi Ozoma, Alex McFall and George Marpaung dig in on their way to winning the tug’-o-war at the 2015 Hog Wars competition at Rangeview High School. Ozoma was many things in his time at Rangeview and is currently a junior who is a Management Science and Engineering major at Stanford University. (File photo by Courtney Oakes/Sentinel Colorado)

Onyi Ozoma, Stanford University student

Onyi Ozoma is and has been so many things in his life, and yet to some in this country, he still is only defined as an African-American.

He’s currently wrapping up his junior year as a Management Science and Engineering major at Stanford University — one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the country — and is in several high positions in school government.

Before that at Rangeview High School, he was National Honor Society President, heavily involved in a variety of clubs and also stood out as a two-sport varsity athlete. In some cases, none of those things mean anything in how he is treated.

“A racist only sees your skin color on first glance and treats you accordingly to however they deem appropriate based on that,” Ozoma said. “Many racists are also very stubborn with their beliefs and discredit the accomplishments of black people and other people of color. Even making accomplishments known won’t convince someone who thinks less of you because of your skin color.”

Ozoma cited the example of Christian Cooper — a Harvard-educated African-American — who had the police recently called on him by a white woman after he asked her to put her dog on a leash as was required in the area of Central Park they were in. The video of that interaction went viral, around the same time as the one of Minneapolis police killing George Floyd.

That’s Ozoma’s reality, where he feels his race is “weaponized” against him.

He’s been fortunate that his interactions with police haven’t been like some of his peers, but he has been reminded of prejudice on occasion. Last December, Ozoma and his sister were followed around a Burberry store at the Cherry Creek Mall by a saleswoman who “was so close she was standing behind me and literally nose-to-nose when I turned around.”

When it comes to police, Ozoma believes that a slew of legislative action is necessary to make change.

“States can adopt policy changes on use of force…and legislation can also be focused on removing immunity for officers,” Ozoma said. “So often, officers on trial are protected and rarely serve real jail sentences despite senseless murders being fully videotaped. We need there to be consequences for these abusive actions.”

— COURTNEY OAKES, Staff Writer


 

Angela Lawson, Aurora City Councilmember

Over the weekend, as protests raged on across the country, former President Barack Obama published an essay highlighting the role of local and state government in police reform. It’s a conversation that is relatively young in Aurora, despite those encounters being far from new.

Councilmember Angela Lawson, who was re-elected in 2019, said she didn’t ever hear those discussions her first two years on the dais, even as tensions among police and the black and brown communities were rising.

“It shouldn’t have taken this long,” she said. In Aurora, it was the election of three self-described progressive councilwomen in 2017 and then the death of Elijah McClain two years later that opened up the possibility for police reform.

The lawmakers are now wading through a pandemic to make a policing task force a reality, but Lawson wants to take another approach.

Now a member of the city’s public safety policy committee, Lawson said she wants to investigate more ways to introduce meaningful change without amending the charter, a move that would require submitting a question to voters.

Instead, Lawson wants to see more conversations about how police misconduct is investigated, transparency in administrative processes and how police are prosecuted when they do behave wrongly.

The prosecution piece is the missing link Lawson said would re-build trust between communities and police departments across the nation. In Minneapolis, where George Floyd died at the hands of the police, and in Aurora.

“I’m a daughter of a black man,” Lawson said. “I fear when he goes out. I don’t know what his encounter will be with the police or somebody who’s not a person of color will be.”

It’s a fear for herself, too. What if she was stopped by police?

“What if my voice went up just by accident?” she said. “I have a fear and I shouldn’t have that fear of the police.”

— KARA MASON, Staff Writer


 

Elisabeth Epps arrives at the Aurora Municipal Courthouse. (File photo by Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado)

Elisabeth Epps, abolitionist

The self-described prison abolitionist has first-hand experience with Aurora cops. Epps, who works to bail people out of jail with the Colorado Freedom Fund and the Denver Justice Project, also spent time in jail after a 2015 interaction with Aurora police.

Asked during a state Capitol protest what could create the most progress on police brutality issues, Epps was flummoxed. She’s familiar with the entire criminal justice system by which a person lands in jail, then prison, and then a life as a felon. And she knows how violent cops come to keep their jobs at police departments.

It’s a complex system with many levels of government.

But Epps targeted one concept also in the sights of a recent police oversight measure: “qualified immunity.” It’s a legal doctrine protecting police officers and other public servants from lawsuits. The doctrine is often criticized for creating a major barrier to holding violent police officers accountable.

“Aurora citizens should be serving on the juries for Aurora cops,” Epps said. “And the lack of … a provision repealing that in Aurora — is what I would say is the biggest problem.”

Epps said the state measure would address this legal doctrine. A draft of the bill, the Law Enforcement Integrity and Accountability Act, was not immediately available June 2.

— GRANT STRINGER, Staff Writer


Interim Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson and Jay B. speak to one another as protestors marched north on South Chambers Road on June 2, 2020, peaceful protest against police brutality following the death of George Floyd. The protestors marched from Gateway High School to the Aurora Municipal Center. (Photo by Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado)

Vanessa Wilson, APD interim police chief

Even behind a mask and dark glasses, Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson can’t conceal her disgust for what she saw on the viral video depicting Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin cruelly crush the life out of George Floyd.

“It was murder,” Wilson said, standing under the baking afternoon sun in the parking lot of Gateway High School.

Wilson came to talk with protesters who gathered at the school and then marched with them to city hall, about a mile and a half away. She had to rephrase her thoughts a couple of times about where she thinks all of this should go now, what was most important at this point. She has had next to no sleep for the past week. Aurora has been supplying officers and equipment to Denver to help with daily protests there that go long into the night. She works at that past midnight and then gets up early for her day job as the interim chief of almost 750 cops working through a pandemic. She knows full well the position she’s in. Her job is to lead and give unwavering support to the rank-and-file officers on the front lines of whatever, every day. She’s also front and center before city managers and council members, and about 400,000 residents, about half of which aren’t white, to assure them things are going to change. She doesn’t see those as conflicting missions — yet.

In the flurry of intentions from the state legislature to get proposed laws to address police accountability and end brutality, she’s looking more to Aurora’s own review, underway but waylaid because of the pandemic.

Her touchstone through all of this? “We work for the people,” Wilson said. “Every officer knows that and must remind each other: ‘We serve.’”

She’s not picking bills yet, but she agrees with other chiefs around the state that new legislation must require officers to step in if they’re witnesses to abusive use of force by other officers, and to report it. Wilson is reserving commitment to other proposals for now, but she’s forthcoming on what she expects: change and dedication to it.

— Sentinel Staff


 

Jovan Mays

Jovan Mays, poet

Jovan Mays has had about enough of Dr. Atkins and his diet.

Mays, the former poet laureate of Aurora, invoked the famed physician’s weight-loss regimen when describing how protests like those that have swept across the world in recent days typically unfold.

“When we have these large-scale reactions, they’re like fad diets,” Mays said. “We’re going to try removing this thing from our plate, or do this one exercise and lose five pounds, and then people will move to the next fad diet and the next one will come. Thousands of books will be published, clothes will go to the thrift store, and it goes back around again.”

But Mays, who’s now youth voice coordinator for Aurora Public Schools, hasn’t totally written off the kinetic unrest that has exploded in the days following George Floyd’s death. He said he wants to see the momentum transferred to school-aged children who can use the current moment to propel change.

“In education, we have to start a greater conservation with our students in being change agents,” he said. “It’s time to really put this more to the youth.”

That was a difficult realization for Mays, who’s now 34 and considers himself at roughly the middle of his life given demographic life expectancies.

“What’s been most haunting about this whole situation is wondering at what moment my dad realized that his generation wasn’t going to get it done, and my dad’s dad realizing that I may not get it done in our lifetime,” Mays said. “I don’t think we got it, I think we have to put this in the hands of young people and hopefully in that transference, we can pass that baton and keep it in the way it’s running. But we know it can’t be a fad bat. It can’t be a slogan. It has to be a real life race — a commitment. And I’m not saying black kids … I mean all of our kids.”

— QUINCY SNOWDON, Staff Writer


 

Stephanie Walsh, Rangeview High School teacher

As a teacher of nearly three decades, Stephanie Walsh is used to having all the answers for her students.

When it comes to the frequently inhuman treatment of blacks and minorities by the police in this country, however, she has none.

As the sponsor of the Social Justice Club at Rangeview High School — and a recent winner of the Colorado Council for Social Studies’ “Colorado Civic Educator of the Year” award — Walsh can only help them navigate the unknown the best they can.

“A lot of these kids worked hard and they are educated, but they’re really figuring out that even if they do the right thing, it still seems like their skin color trumps all of that,” said Walsh, who is white. “These are kids with 4.0 GPAs who are successful in school, and that’s what I see first, but that’s not what everyone wants to see first. Some people don’t see them as an individual student that happens to be black. It’s not equal in the eyes of police. I don’t know how to help them with that.”

Last week, she organized an impromptu meeting of the Social Justice Club — which met throughout the school year until the coronavirus pandemic arrived — to help current students and alumni talk, vent and express themselves in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Walsh’s participation is limited for health reasons — as she is a primary caregiver for her 76-year-old mother-in-law who is on oxygen and is at high risk of contracting COVID-19 — but she used her knowledge from several trips to Washington D.C. to prepare the group that wanted to attend the protests in Denver from scenes they’ve only really seen in movies.

Walsh said that her greatest hope for change from this situation is an implementation of regular mandatory training on diversity and race training for all police officers (like she does annually with the Aurora Public Schools district) as well as an examination of the educational background required in each community to be hired as an officer, which seems to vary widely.

In a lot of facets in life, there’s change that needs to take place in Walsh’s opinion.

“You have to change those racist policies that are so ingrained in our institutions,” Walsh said. “Education is really trying to work on that, but it’s a hard thing and it’s going to take a long time. The gentleman in Minneapolis should be held accountable and charged, but that won’t solve the whole problem. How do we make sure it never happens again?”

— COURTNEY OAKES, Staff Writer

 


 

Sheldon Lucas-McHenry, Rangeview High School graduate


Sheldon Lucas-McHenry originally joined Rangeview High School’s Social Justice Club as a senior to get more connected to his school community.

When he did, the 2020 graduate found a diverse group of people he connected with right away and with which he experienced many life-changing events in just a short time.

A recent impromptu meeting of the club — held with social distancing practiced due to the coronavirus pandemic — opened his eyes even more.

“As a white person, I can’t feel the same pain as our African-American members as I’ve never experienced the racism and injustice they have. Many of them during our meeting expressed their confusion and sadness as to why this racism and injustice still exists in America today.”

Lucas-McHenry attended a recent protest with his classmates in Downtown Denver and was proud of how demonstrators comported themselves, even as the “intimidation factor” of seeing police up close in full riot gear escalated the situation.

He hopes to use his privilege as a white male to bring about real conversations on race relations.

“Being able to use my voice as a white ally to spread how they are feeling and using what I can do to help other people understand that,” he said.

The immediate change Lucas-McHenry hopes comes soon is legislative in nature.

“I’m drafting an email to Congressional Rep. Jason Crow asking him to support (Massachusetts Congresswoman) Ayanna Pressley’s House resolution to condemn police brutality and excessive force,” he said. “I think there needs to be demilitarization of local police and a reform in our justice system and how all these things are dealt with.”

Lucas-McHenry hopes to make changes in the future in Washington D.C., where he is headed for college at American University.

— COURTNEY OAKES, Staff Writer