COUNCILMAN GARDNER: Aurora can’t end police-reform quagmire with political melodrama

Over the last several weeks, there have been discussions in our country on criminal justice reform that would have been almost unthinkable even a few months ago. Here in Aurora, as city leaders, we will be taking a hard look into the death of Elijah McClain in order to bring about meaningful policy changes that will reduce the likelihood of a similar tragedy from happening again.

 Earlier in June, I was disappointed when I learned that the city had contracted with a former law enforcement officer to conduct the independent investigation into Elijah McClain. For those that think that seems like anti-police bias, I ask you to imagine a scenario in which the city had brought in an attorney well-known for prosecuting cases against police officers. Wouldn’t you be calling for their removal from the case?

I believe that it is critical for our community that every resident be able to trust the findings of this investigation. I know that trust has been strained and even broken by the delays in finding an independent reviewer — and by the fact that one was needed at all. Just like George Floyd and so many others, Elijah McClain deserves to be alive and with us right now.

Unfortunately, while these criminal justice reform discussions have begun, the nuance required for the conversation has been drowned out by the loudest voices. The discourse on the Aurora City Council surrounding this issue, and many others, is quickly becoming toxic and threatens to derail meaningful change.

I can assure you — it is possible to recognize that a majority of officers in our community are incredibly capable while at the same time acknowledging meaningful reforms are needed in order to make sure bad officers aren’t able to stay in Aurora. Equally important, we need to acknowledge that Black Americans have different experiences than White Americans.

A growing number of people in this country are tired of the increasing toxicity of our political discourse. More and more, folks are recognizing that leaders bring forward solutions and drive important policy changes rather than throw stones.

There are leaders on the Aurora City Council doing the hard work — putting in countless hours toward the cause of reform and meaningful change. Beware of those on both sides that think that making a social media post or attending a protest are the only ways to impact change — change takes many forms.

Are you part of the majority that rejects the notion that there are only two options in the reform conversation? Do you believe we all could learn from each other if we’d take a few minutes to do some listening rather than formulating our next attack? Do you wish the Aurora City Council showed humility and understanding in the face of a very difficult, nuanced conversation?

I pledge to do the following:

— Work with other city leaders that are interested in meaningful, realistic reforms and productive discourse

— Engage with members of law enforcement that recognize there are reforms that will make their jobs easier by reducing friction with the public

— Collaborate with community partners that have a vested interest in change

— Take a deliberate approach to this conversation rather than overreact and bring about unintended consequences

— Be transparent in explaining my positions

— Balance the need to maintain a safe community and the rule of law with reforms I believe in

— Recognize that my reality isn’t everyone’s reality

The recent increase in violence in our city has me concerned, and that needs to be part of our overall conversation on criminal justice reforms. It demonstrates we need to engage law enforcement in these discussions.

I do think protests can be a very effective tool for bringing about social change in our society, as has been demonstrated countless times in the history of our country, and protecting the first amendment rights of our residents is non-negotiable. But locking police officers into their district station, as happened last weekend, is wrong — we need to punish bad officers without putting additional lives at risk. We’re better than that.

While I serve on the City Council, like many of you reading this, I am also a constituent in Aurora. I reject the approach that leaders need to be loud to be heard or make change. I suspect many in Aurora feel the same way.

 Curtis Gardner is an at-large Councilmember for the City of Aurora.