SB217’s Blind Spot: Colorado’s Police Should Return to Unencrypted Scanners

The murder of George Floyd at the hands of four Minneapolis police officers inspired one of the most widespread and heroic uprisings in modern United States history. Two weeks of rioting and protest have opened a dialogue about the nature of police and spurred more efforts at reform, or in some cases outright abolition, than years of voting and token civilian oversight efforts ever could have. This is a reckoning years in the making – rampant police brutality has persisted nationwide for decades and between the police unions making any accountability or policy change all but impossible, a “Thin Blue Line” “warrior” culture that has deliberately placed cops above the citizenry, and both peaceful protest and representative democracy failing to rectify the problem, it was only a matter of time before things finally exploded. The brutal, indiscriminate response from police all across the country exposed them as an occupying force with contempt for the populations they purportedly serve rather than a profession existing for conflict resolution; an extortion racket for the wealthy existing to crush dissent and keep systems and institutions failing the vast majority of people afloat to maintain revenue streams.

Unsurprisingly, Colorado law enforcement was in rare form. With a long history of protest suppression, the response to initial demonstrations in downtown Denver as well as Colorado Springs was a strategy of overwhelming force and intimidation. Mirroring the conflicts that played out in most major American cities, it was obvious that the police were starting the riots, but the segment of demonstrators willing to fight back – rightfully fed up with police overreach and invulnerability – was significantly higher than usual. A police murder and the subsequent efforts to crush any outcry should always be seen as a breach of the social contract, and a critical mass of people justifiably and righteously made that breach a two-way street by opening up a conflict with the police that raged for days and still shows very little sign of stopping.

Local efforts to diffuse the tension have ranged from nefarious, with a seemingly AstroTurf “activist” organization emerging overnight in Denver that focused immediately on tone policing, sowing division with a lack of respect for a diversity of tactics, and staging photo-ops for local politicians and the police department, to suspicious – there’s been speculation that the Denver Police stood down not just to deescalate, but because the department was running out of crowd control weapon munitions and had exhausted their manpower. It’s also likely the mayor’s office pulled them back after realizing the DPD handled everything terribly and was primarily responsible for escalating the situation. An officer was fired for posting himself and two other police officers in riot gear and captioning it “Let’s Start a Riot” on Instagram.

Token symbolic measures, like the painting of Black Lives Matter in front of the capitol building and some changing of street signs, were taken this week. Quite quickly, a flurry of activity at the statehouse to get some legislation on the books and hopefully quell anger was engaged, giving Coloradans SB217, a reform bill that’s already passed in the House and will be voted on imminently in the Senate. State Republicans and law enforcement groups (naturally) object to many of the proposals and will likely neuter key provisions in an already relatively toothless bill that seems, on its face, full of “reforms” that are nebulously enforceable.

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Arvada Police’s Feel-Good Vest Copaganda is Trash

As if Super Bowl 53 could’ve gotten worse, the shitty town I’m imminently moving out of at the end of this month was given the national spotlight in a prime-time commercial slot! Was it the civic failure saga of the “Ghost Train to Nowhere” being highlighted to the entire country, perhaps as a cautionary tale of the dangers of allowing private contractors to ruin public transit projects? No, it couldn’t be, unless I’ve hit the lottery and started running vanity ads like Tom Steyer. Maybe an ad trumpeting the area’s diversity and representation after Brianna Titone became the state’s first transgender lawmaker in a traditionally republican-held district? Not in a million years, like Pats fans need any more hate crime fuel.

It was in fact an advertisement paid for by Ford Motors for Colorado Springs nonprofit SHIELD616 featuring an Arvada Police officer hawking for donations for body armor:

Let’s put aside that Colorado police pulled $21 million just in marijuana tax revenue last year and that Arvada is consistently rated as one of the safest cities in America, seeing just 27 violent crimes for every 100,000 residents in 2017,  or that they are a great example of totally overstocked and overmilitarization in the first place, with quick access to the Jefferson County “BearCat” armored vehicle as well as the assault weapons I see slung around the backs of uniformed officers responding to apparent traffic incidents.

Never mind that the Arvada Police Department, until an officer was hit by a car in 2009, hadn’t experienced an officer fatality since 1961. This is a town that was literally rocked by a crime wave of teenagers breaking windows and grabbing a couple of things just a few months ago, not quite the epicenter of lawlessness and flying bullets that necessitate a $5+ million commercial spot during the most-watched television event in the country.

The Police Department received 20 vest kits in a publicity ceremony last week, quick to hearken on the three officers killed last year but conveniently neglecting to point out the rampage Colorado law enforcement has been on in the early months of 2019. As of March 5th, there have been 19 officer-involved woundings and 9 fatalities, including an incident where a man was killed and a woman was wounded after police and federal marshals opened fire on a vehicle with two toddlers in it attempting to arrest the man on a probation violation. Several other officer-involved shootings involved incidents in which the police reported being allegedly hit by suspect’s cars, which is an awfully remarkable coincidence for six of those altercations, and something that the Denver Police Department had to revise policy over after paying nearly $1 million to the family of Jessie Hernandez in 2017, a teen shot to death by police while sitting in an allegedly stolen vehicle with several other children in 2015.

It seems a little odd that the officers reporting that they were struck by fleeing vehicles didn’t need to be hospitalized, and that by claiming they were struck, were able to completely usurp a citizen’s right to due process and execute the alleged suspects, especially since the largest city in Colorado changed policy regarding shooting at fleeing vehicles. A lot more cops seem to be “hit” by vehicles these days as a correlation. An interesting connection is also the relentless pursuit of charges against a man recently acquitted of killing Colorado State Patrol Trooper Cory Donahue after two mistrials in two-and-a-half years. Once again, Colorado law enforcement have positioned themselves as vindictive against the public and reinforced an us-vs-them mentality against a man who by most sane accounts was involved in a highway accident. Continue reading →

An Extralegal Execution in Aurora

Very early Monday morning in Aurora, Colorado, 73-year-old Richard “Gary” Black woke up to find a woman on his porch attempting to retrieve her 26-year-old son, who she said was on drugs and not likely in control of his actions. Black raced upstairs, where he found that a nude man, later identified as the 26-year-old Dajon Harper, had dragged his 11-year-old grandson from the living room into a bathroom, where he was strangling and attempting to drown the boy. Black, a Vietnam combat veteran, started to beat the man and reportedly tried to gouge out one of his eyes in an effort to free his grandson to no avail, went and retrieved a handgun, and shot Harper dead.

Black’s wife had been on the phone with 911 and police reported hearing gunshots as they approached the house. Black walked into his living room, where police shot him dead through a window from outside the house. Police reportedly didn’t identify themselves but claimed for “around thirteen seconds” they screamed at Black five times to drop his weapon. The whereabouts of Harper’s mother during the incident are presently unknown. Black reportedly suffered hearing damage from his time in Vietnam, as well as further degradation due to old age, and also likely had very little auditory function after firing a handgun inside of a bathroom. Aurora Chief of Police Nick Metz has blamed Mr. Black’s actions for his death, despite the as-of-yet unnamed police officer being involved in a fatal shooting in June and recently returned to duty.

The same police department that took in Aurora theater shooter James Holmes into custody alive murdered a man defending his family in his own home, from outside the house, who was an entirely different ethnicity and wearing specifically described clothing than the suspect detailed during the emergency phone call. That’s an indictment of incompetence and poor training that underscores the “fearful”, wanton bloodlust of police culture in America, where academies constantly drill a shoot-first-ask-question-later mentality with phrases like “better to be judged by twelve than carried out by six.” Anyone paying attention in the last thirty years knows that phrase is far accurately “better to get several weeks of ‘paid administrative leave’ and no charges.”

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