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Colorado Speaks: The Black Lives Matter Protests

5 Things That Have Changed Amid Protests in Denver

Demonstrations in the Mile High City have already led to sweeping law enforcement reforms—and more are on the way.

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For more than two weeks, people have marched throughout Denver demanding more accountability for law enforcement officers. Protests in the Mile High City began May 28, three days after George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, was killed by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.

Several public officials have joined those marching, including Mayor Michael Hancock. “It’s easy to march,” Hancock said during a June 3 protest. “It’s easy to talk. The success of the march is when it’s over.… I’m tired of talking. Yes, it’s time to get to work.” And so far, that work is getting done; protests in Denver are already resulting in change.

Here are five outcomes from 16 consecutive days of protests in Denver.

  1. A federal judge told the Denver Police Department (DPD) they could no longer use pepper spray and pellets, tear gas, rubber bullets, or other chemical weapons against peaceful protestors. The temporary restraining order issued by Judge R. Brooke Jackson on June 5 extends to other local jurisdictions if Denver has requested assistance from them in its response to protests stemming from the death of George Floyd. The order went on to say that other non-lethal projectiles are not allowed to be shot at someone’s head, back, or pelvis. There are some exceptions to the order, however. Chemical weapons or projectiles are allowed if an officer ranked captain or higher on the scene authorizes them as a response to violence or destruction of property. Jackson’s order also states that pepper spray, tear gas, and other chemicals may be used after an order to disperse is issued.
  2. DPD modified some of its own policies, including banning chokeholds and carotid pressure techniques outright, and mandating the DPD Metro/SWAT unit turn on body-worn cameras when performing tactical operations. Prior to these changes, which took place on June 7, chokeholds were allowed in lethal encounters, according to reporting from the Denver Post. (The Aurora Police Department also banned carotid pressure holds this week.) Another policy change requires Denver officers to report to a supervisor if they intentionally point a weapon at someone, according to a statement from the department.
  3. A comprehensive law enforcement reform bill passed the Colorado Senate this week and is expected to pass the House on Friday. The bill calls for officers across the state to wear body cameras and for data, including demographic information of the person stopped and a reason for the stop, to be collected to prevent racial profiling. The bill also proposes eliminating qualified immunity, which bans a public official—or in this case, a police officer—from being sued if they cause serious harm to someone. If signed into law, the bill would ban officers who were fired from another city for excessive use of force from being hired to work at another department in the state, as well as require officers to intervene if another officer is using excessive force. Editor’s Note: The bill passed the House on Friday, June 12, and is headed to Governor Jared Polis’ desk (he plans to sign the bill into law).
  4. Legislation surrounding police reform is being considered at the national level. Reform ranges from a national database tracking police misuse of force to mandating body cameras and bias training. House Democrats put forth legislation on Monday that would ban chokeholds and incentivize municipalities that require racial bias training. Senate Republicans have not proposed specific legislation but discussions are under way, and a five-person task force has been formed to write the legislation, according to CNN.
  5. Denver Public Schools (DPS) voted unanimously on Thursday to sever ties with DPD in an effort to “undo systemic racism,” according to the resolution. DPS will reduce the number of school resource officers—police officers that monitor campuses and students—by 25 percent by December and completely remove all officers from campuses by June 4, 2021. From the 2014-’15 school year to the 2018-’19 school year, DPS students were ticketed or arrested at least 4,540 times, with the majority of citations going to Black or Latino students, according to the resolution. Board member Tay Anderson has been an active protest organizer and called for DPS to end its contract with DPD, advocating for that money to go to nurses and mental-health support instead. “I want us to become less dependent on law enforcement and more dependent on our communities,” Anderson previously told 5280. Funding for officers will be reallocated to provide more school-based social workers, mental health professionals, and other professionals, according to the resolution.

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