Confronting racism isn’t really that hard, it’s struggling with reality, for some in Aurora, that’s become such an onerous burden.
It was exhausting to watch a few Aurora city council members labor Tuesday night with the reality surrounding the 2019 death of Elijah McClain at the hands of Aurora police and medics.
For more than a year, the public was told by many city, legal and police officials not to believe their lying eyes when watching video evidence of Aurora officers recklessly mishandle a needless confrontation with McClain.
Last week, new Aurora police Chief Vanessa Wilson and top city officials courageously confronted a lethal problem with racism in its police department. An independent investigation finally laid bare how a young Black man walking home from the store at night died after a brutal confrontation with police.
The cliche rings true that McClain’s only wrongdoing that night was walking while Black.
The months-long independent probe into the circumstances that led to McClain’s death, and the virtual exoneration of the cops and medics involved, was unequivocal.
“I believe the investigative team has identified the issue that is at the root of the case: The failure of a system of accountability,” City Manager Jim Twombly told reporters at a press conference last week.
Wilson stipulated the report findings and ensured the city and region, Aurora can and will do better. The majority of city council members understood the report’s conclusion and are ready to move the city ahead.
Despite the clarity three impressive experts brought to the hodgepodge of information made public so far, city lawmakers like council members Dave Gruber and Marsha Berzins weren’t having it Tuesday night.
“We all want justice for Elijah, but we have to do it the right way,” Berzins said as lawmakers for the first time had their opportunity to comment on the scathing assessment of how police handled the McClain debacle.
Her “right way” assertion was a chilling reminder of how wrong things really are in places like Aurora. Witnessing outrages from Trayvon Martin through George Floyd, we’ve learned that the “right way” is the “white way.”
Berzins pointed out the disconnect from reality for herself and too many. She said police had no idea when they confronted McClain that night that he was the “nice, sweet” person he was.
She, and others, don’t understand the broken reality Blacks and many other people of color suffer. Only “nice, sweet” Black people have a claim to being treated like any white person. Only “nice, sweet” Black people are entitled to getting justice “the right way.”
Black people behaving oddly in poor neighborhoods in Aurora live under and through a separate system of justice.
Gruber on Tuesday flatly denied the report and evidence. He accused three, learned, highly experienced experts — a civil rights and policing lawyer, a former police chief of a large city and an emergency medical expert — of conspiring to move an agenda past the search for justice.
In balking about the conclusion that former Adams County District Attorney Dave Young was wrong in his assessment that there was no case against the cops and medics connected to McClain’s death, Gruber said the independent report inferred collusion among Denver, Aurora, Adams County police and prosecutors.
Yes. That’s exactly the problem here — and across the nation. It’s not collusion in the sense that they plot together before meeting. They don’t have to. They collude to protect police from prosecution by affording officers deference no one else in the nation gets.
Investigating lawyer Jonathan Smith made it perfectly clear: Police accused of wrongdoing work through a justice system very different than the one the rest of us are subjected to.
Aurora police were clearly served justice over McClain’s death “the right way” when prosecutors said they couldn’t prove a case against them.
The “right” kind of justice shrouds police when they investigate each other, when they assess internal wrongdoing, when prosecutors look for possible charges and even in the courts when jurors sympathize with cops, who only have to say, they were worried that someone they are confronting might have a gun, a grudge or unsatisfactory reason for walking home from the store on a hot summer night.
It’s the tens of thousands of Grubers and Berzins that the city must struggle against. These are people who don’t fathom the distinction between the wisdom of succumbing to unreasonable police demands, and the constitutional right to disregard police orders — as long as you’re the right race and in the right neighborhood.
People like Berzins and Gruber have no problem with police ignoring the rights of a Black man in what looks like winter wear in the summer. For these people, officers have the right to stop people acting in a way that could be worrisome, even though the law is clear that’s not the case.
Many, however, agree those rules don’t apply to white guys who strap on a hog-leg and head to the store or walk around town with a loaded shotgun.
Just a couple of years back, it was great fun for gun-rights activists to bait Aurora police by parading in public with a gun. Never once was one of these white men ever accosted by police. When told to stop, these ammo-bitionists took selfies on their phones as they walked on, weirdly blathering on about their constitutional rights to “open carry” and show off.
Who worries you most? A young Black man walking in a winter get-up carrying iced tea or a white guy decked out in camo walking down Havana Street with a Winchester?
You already know which one is most likely going to jail or the morgue.
We can no longer explain away why innocent Black men, harassed, tazed or accosted by police, don’t enjoy justice the “right way” like white people do.
Just this summer, Aurora was excoriated by the public when officers wrongly pulled over a car carrying black women and girls. The cops erroneously thought the car was stolen. Officers said they were only following policy when they forced even a 6-year-old hysterically crying Black girl face down onto hot pavement during “questioning.”
If you honestly believe those cops would have forced elderly white women or young white toddlers face down onto the pavement during the specious stop, you have a problem accepting reality.
You might, however, have a good chance to get elected to city council.
Follow @EditorDavePerry on Twitter and Facebook or reach him at [email protected] or 303-750-7555.