By Peter Marcus, DENVER DAILY NEWS
As details are still being sorted in the case of President Obama’s friend Prof. Henry Louis Gates Jr., a group of local citizens Monday asked state officials to stop police brutality and racial profiling.
Speaking at an at-times emotional Civil Rights Forum hosted by the Department of Regulatory Agencies, about 80 citizens told stories of abuse by police, state officials, lawyers, lenders, insurance brokers and the overall “machine,” as citizens put it.
Eight years ago, Shelia, who declined to give her last name, and her family, moved into a new home in Green Valley Ranch. She described a situation her son, who is black, experienced, an experience eerily similar to the one experienced by Gates when Cambridge, Mass., police arrested him last week for disorderly conduct. A neighbor had reported a possible break-in at Gates’ home. It turned out that he and his driver were forcing their way into the house after Gates returned from a trip to China and found the door jammed.
Shelia said when she and her family were moving into their new Green Valley Ranch home, her then-20-year-old son experienced a similar situation. The son was moving stereo equipment from his car into the house when he became distracted by a group of girls.
Ditching the stereo for the girls, Shelia’s son soon noticed two police cars in the area. He thought, “Someone’s going to jail today.”
It turned out that someone was almost him. The police officers questioned him about the stereo, wondering if he had recently broke into a house in the neighborhood. Shelia’s son offered to let the officers into his new home, to show them pictures of him from childhood, utility bills and mail that would have proven that he lived there and was simply moving in.
The officers continued their line of questioning for several minutes, despite being offered proof of innocence, according to Shelia.
They finally left. But they only did so because her son was extra cautious with them, she said.
“My son was very intelligent, patient and understanding. But he could have gone to jail if he wasn’t careful about how he chose his words with the cops,” she said.
“I’m literally shocked,” continued Shelia.
Steven Chavez, director of the Division of Civil Rights for the Department of Regulatory Agencies, said at the meeting Monday that the entire purpose of the meeting was to gather comments such as Shelia’s to develop policies that would alleviate some of the group’s concerns.
“What we’re hoping to do is gain information from citizens across the state to find out what’s on people’s minds,” he said. “It may drive policy.”
The last time a state-sponsored report was conducted on the state of civil rights was 10 years ago. D. Rico Munn, executive director of the Department of Regulatory Agencies, said Gov. Bill Ritter has ordered the agency to put together a fresh report.
The report is expected to be released at the end of October.
Much of the concern Monday was also raised over money flowing in from Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus package, of which Colorado is expected to receive more than $7 billion in direct funding and tax relief.
Speakers said they want means to ensure that the money flows to projects that benefit low-income and minority communities, as well as to put minority citizens to work.
Some spoke of the recession hitting minority communities the hardest, with employers downsizing by firing black and Hispanic workers before white colleagues.
Others told stories of lenders discriminating against minority borrowers by setting them up with sub-prime and risky loans that have left thousands facing foreclosure.
But the subject, over and over again, came back to race relations with police and state officials.
Community activist Alvertis Simmons, an outspoken critic of racial profiling, said he hopes the Division of Civil Rights takes a hard look at police mentalities and policies.
“They’ll kill you, they’ll shoot you, they’ll beat you,” he said. “Their mantra is, ‘They’d rather be judged by 12 than carried by six.’”
“I tell people every day you’ve got to respect the police, and to do what you’re told,” he continued. “But at the end of the day, the police, they’ve got to respect us too.”
A second Civil Rights Forum will be held on Thursday from 5-7 p.m. at the Berkeley Recreation Center, 5031 West 46th Ave.
Distributed by Colorado Capitol Reporters