EDITORIAL: Don’t undermine Aurora public meetings by hiding — arrest illegal disrupters

1197

The Aurora City Council has a serious problem that’s easy to remedy, it’s just not a pretty solution.

For weeks, city council meetings have been disrupted by activists who show up en masse, verbally abuse city lawmakers and especially Mayor Bob LeGare. They hijack the meetings with profanity, vulgarities, chanting and a wide range of bullying tactics.

It’s untenable and undermines the legitimate concerns about serious problems in the Aurora police department.

Most of the recent protests have focused on the death of Elijah McClain. After an encounter with Aurora Police in August, McClain had heart failure and later died.

McClain’s family have repeatedly said Elijah was abused by police, drugged by paramedics and ultimately died from the encounter. Just last week, the Adams County coroner said the cause of death was inconclusive, but he did not rule out that police caused or contributed to McClain’s death.

The incident has become even more controversial because police have mishandled the release of information about the death.

The Sentinel editorial board has been at the front of the parade of residents disturbed by McClain’s death and a growing number of cases where police have shot, killed or maimed people they encounter.

The immediate problem in the police department is the inability to manage the release of information about these controversial cases to the public. A larger problem with the police department is undermining their own credibility and public trust by refusing to adopt a system of independent review of cases like the McClain death.

But the regular public harassment of the mayor and city council during meetings not only undermines legitimate and laudable goals of these activists, it’s illegal and it’s offensive.

A good rule of thumb in any personal or public strategy to achieve change is, “how’s that working for you?”

Protester takeover tactics have swayed no one on the city council and they alienate the public from an important cause.

On more than one occasion, speakers have either casually lobbed the f-bomb at LeGare or other members of city council. On other occasions, speakers either at the lectern or yelling in the audience have pummeled LeGare with slurs like “Mayor f***boy” and similar profane slights.

Some then chant or yell until city council adjourns and some lawmakers leave the dais until the protests subside.

It’s wrong, and it’s illegal.

Last week, city lawmakers adjourned the meeting and took it up again in a different room, effectively barring protesters from the room. They also, wrongly, barred the public from an open meeting.

After the meeting, city lawmakers tentatively agreed to preclude a portion of future meetings that allow the public to address the council on any topic.

They should abandon that odious scheme. Public rights and open meeting laws are not negotiable, nor are they fodder for extortion squabbles with unruly members of the public.

The protesters are the problem and the city council needs to recognize that and rectify it. If protesters act out, they should be warned. If they continue, they should be removed by police.

Current state and city law have an answer for purposeful disruption, use it.