Black lives will never matter as much as white lives in Colorado and across the nation until we elect leaders and appoint police chiefs who change the systems that rob millions of minorities of equal treatment and equal rights.
Aurora, Denver, Colorado Springs are perfect places to begin that process.
After more than 200 years of repeated history, it’s clear that racism and the tolerance for it cannot be cured or driven from America.
The horrifying video depicting the cruel and vicious murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police was easily one of the most clear-cut and revolting incidents of criminal police thuggery targeting blacks, minorities and the poor. The horrific homicide, however, is but one of hundreds of ghastly assaults, rights abuses and grisly murders that sworn officers and justice officials commit year after year after year.
Hats off to the thousands of thunderous, peaceful protesters who flooded the Colorado Capitol and Downtown Denver during the past few days to push the chronic problem of police racism and abuse deep into the public psyche.
But the abuses will continue just as it has for endless generations unless police and political leaders first acknowledge the problem. Then they must commit to substantial, structural changes that will be unpopular with many law-enforcement officials, rank-and-file and the elected leaders who pander to them.
Police agencies in Denver, Aurora, Colorado Springs, across the state, and across the nation, employ officers that mistreat minorities, especially blacks, and they do so with little or no retribution. Denying it doesn’t end it.
It doesn’t mean that the majority of Aurora and Denver cops aren’t righteous, respectful and remarkable officers who treat blacks with the same concern and dignity that they offer everyone they encounter. It means that there are still enough officers who either by choice or ignorance treat minorities badly and even dangerously because they see blacks and minorities as less valuable than whites. In Aurora and across the country, they are racist because they can be.
Aurora’s former police chief Nick Metz fired veteran police Lt. Charles DeShazer less than two years ago for being caught on tape making racial slurs during a police call.
“We got the Alabama porch monkeys all contained,” DeShazer was heard saying in police body camera footage. He was referring to neighborhood observers and witnesses.
Ten months later, the Aurora Civil Service Commission forced the police department to rehire DeShazer, saying the affront did not warrant firing.
Incidents like that give little hope to Black Lives Matter proponents, that systemic indifference to racist cops will end horrific deaths like that of Aurora resident Elijah McClain. McClain was killed by police and “rescuers” last summer while simply walking home from a convenience store. McClain, 22, was targeted by a caller and Aurora police because he was wearing a face mask, as he often did, and because he was black. Confronted by police, McClain panicked. Officers first used choke holds on the 120-pound massage therapist to force him to faint and then injected him with 500 mg of ketamine. At one point, an officer tells McClain: “If you keep messing around, I’m going to bring my dog out, and he’s going to dog bite you, you understand me?”
His heart stopped minutes later and he never regained consciousness.
The Adams County district attorney’s office found no grounds for criminal charges against any of the officers or medics that responded to the call that ended McClain’s life.
That’s where it ends in Aurora and Colorado, case after case, death after death, time after time. Taxpayers will pay millions in wrongful death civil lawsuits. City and police officials dismiss these settlements as net taxpayer savings so as to avoid legal costs created by jury trials.
And nothing changes. Aurora has created a nascent community forum to talk about calls for change, but that process has been waylaid because of the pandemic crisis.
Police cannot police themselves. It hasn’t worked, and it won’t. An absence of criminal charges is not an exoneration or an endorsement of police calls gone wrong, yet that’s exactly how many police and elected officials see it.
Recent pushes for independent oversight of controversial police actions have already been met with push back from about half of the Aurora City Council, police administrators and police union. Past city lawmakers have made it clear they might further tweak the Aurora Civil Service Commission, but they have no interest in reforms substantial enough to fire cops making racial slurs.
The lives of blacks and minorities have been diminished by city leaders in Aurora and across the state who are either complicit with racists or indifferent to the problem.
These aren’t the first protests against the chronic police abuse of blacks and minorities. They won’t be the last — unless voters press the people they elect to make clear their commitment for police oversight reform. Residents must vote against candidates who won’t make this a priority and make good on promises to end tolerance for racism by enacting substantive change.