Plywood over the windows of Aurora’s city hall is a suitable metaphor for the city’s unresolved anguish over police reform and the death of Elijah McClain.
It’s time to un-shutter both the windows at city hall and attitudes toward police and police reform across the community.
Honesty and action are needed now.
The Aurora region does not need further investigations to be confident about what happened to McClain in August of 2019 and after that. It is indisputable that Aurora police bungled an encounter with McClain, wrongly escalating the incident based on a host of biases and gaffes. Both police and medics made a cavalcade of mistakes that ultimately caused McClain’s death.
The only thing McClain was guilty of was being one of millions of Black Americans who fear any encounter with police.
The police department then botched the investigation of his death.
For generations, police have evolved into a too-secretive, imperious and faux-military organization, here in Aurora and across the country. Aurora police have been exposed for what they have become when police rolled up on McClain that night, and in the years past.
It matters greatly that those responsible for McClain’s death and the ruined investigation afterward are brought to justice, but that justice will never reconcile his death and the mistreatment of others who have suffered by police biases and ineptitude.
Three things are apparent:
• Aurora cannot dismiss the ghastly mistakes that police have made.
• Not every officer or medic is guilty of abusing people of color, and many are in fact, people of color.
• The Aurora Police department must be reformed, not scrapped, because any other option will lead only to chaos, injury and death.
It’s unclear whether state prosecutors will overturn previous, tainted criminal investigations into police involvement in McClain’s death. Regardless of whether state attorney general officials pursue criminal action against officers, medics and possibly the department, Aurora must pursue rigorous reforms. Now.
City officials must set aside frivolous ideas of disbanding the police department or turning all police into unarmed mediators. We live in a society that too often worships and wields guns, indulges in drugs and is quick to inflict all kinds of violence on one another. Interceding into our violent lives is dangerous, complicated work.
But reforms that recognize the wide range of societal problems and how many calls for help not only don’t require an armed response but are actually escalated by mis-responding to problems is a real concern. It’s one that’s fixable.
Just as frivolous is the perpetual myth that police actually reduce and prevent crime. Police respond to crimes and problems after they occur. Aurora leaders who say they want to empower police to prevent crimes simply don’t understand it. Good jobs, attentive parenting, affordable housing, social and racial equity, solid education and community involvement actually prevent crimes and mitigate them.
Police make arrests and enable the court system to prosecute those who violate the law.
It doesn’t mean that police departments can’t help resolve all kinds of problems that mitigate or reduce criminal incidents. It means that police departments must become diverse in how they respond to problems and who it is that responds.
Separate from all of this are immutable requirements the city must impose now on police:
• Aurora police must be subject to truly independent oversight. • The police department must act transparently, and all internal actions and investigations must be available for public inspection.
• The public must work to build and rebuild trust in the police department with community guidance, oversight and accountability.
It’s time for the shuttered windows to open up at city hall, literally and figuratively. Leaders who don’t fathom or embrace the critical need for reform must stand aside or be set aside by voters. And it’s time, now, for all of Aurora to work with police to ensure the safety and protection of everyone.