Throughout Colorado and across the country people of color are disproportionately deemed threats to public safety, arrested for low-level offenses, jailed at higher rates than white people or worse — killed. As city council members for Aurora, the most racially diverse city in all of Colorado, we believe that SB21-062, the jail population management tools bill, is a critical step in protecting our communities and stopping this vicious cycle of violence.
While the opposition has tried to fan the fears of what could happen to our communities if we reduce arrests and undue incarceration, let’s be clear about what actually is happening and what will keep happening if we don’t.
While certain crimes have increased for a variety of reasons, from an economic downturn to empty streets during the pandemic, racial injustice and distrust of police has plagued Aurora far longer. In our city, Black people have been consistently overrepresented in the people police arrested and about two-thirds of arrests where force was used were for misdemeanor or petty offenses.
Nearly half of the people Aurora police tackled, Tased, pepper sprayed, struck or shot in 2019 were Black, even though Black people make up only 16% of our city’s population. Last year in Denver, Black people made up 27% of the people Denver police used force against despite being only 10% of the population. These racial disparities are shown in the cities’ data going back at least four years. Disproportionate violence in policing Black people in our city does not promote public safety, and no honest proponent of public safety should accept this state of affairs.
If arresting and incarcerating people actually made us safe, then we’d be the most protected people on the planet. Instead, we account for 25% of the world’s jail population with only 5% of the world’s total population, surpassing incarceration rates of authoritarian states we often denounce.
Colorado incarcerates people at more than twice the rate of our closest international allies, yet we are no safer, only more separated. Critics claim that jail helps de-escalate a person in crisis. That it’s calming. We want to be clear that de-escalation is not the same as subduing and controlling people. Today, just as it was centuries ago, fear and othering are being deployed to keep people of color behind bars. Fear mongering about increased crime rates has less to do with true concern for public safety and everything to do with protecting white supremacy.
Calling out these facts may feel uncomfortable to some but it is critical for all of us to take an honest look and legislate accordingly. Instead of fighting to be able to arrest non-violent people who pose no safety risk we should be united to challenge a failed system and save lives. That is what SB62 is ultimately aiming to do. Increasing or maintaining current levels of arrests and pre-trial detention is not going to have the outcome of reduced crime and greater safety for our communities. Instead, the outcome will be what it’s always been; Job loss, separation from families and support systems, trauma, death.
We have the opportunity to reduce the over-policing and undue incarceration that too many people in our community face, while keeping everyone in our community safe. We support this bill because it is a measured approach to what has become an out of control epidemic.
Othering our neighbors does not prevent crime. Jobs do. Housing does. Community belonging does. Hope does. SB21-062 provides Colorado with the opportunity to reduce strain on our criminal legal system, reduce the pre-trial jail population, enable counties to spend limited resources on housing and infrastructure rather than larger jails, and combat the poverty-to-prison pipeline while still holding those who harm others accountable.
When we think of Elijah McClain, Michael Marshall, George Floyd and countless people of color killed over biased perceptions and inconsequential offenses, we hear the words of Rev. Spencer Lamar Booker, whose brother Marvin was also killed by police: “If they haven’t done any harm, don’t be alarmed.” It is not enough to say their names and make performative promises. In this moment of reckoning with respect to racial justice it’s time for those of us who are in positions of power to join in solidarity, be the bold leaders we were elected to be, and support Senate Bill 62.
Aurora Councilmember Alison Coombs represents Ward V. Aurora Councilmember Juan Marcano represents Ward IV