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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