Amid community outcry, Boulder City Council names Stan Garnett to review police incident

People crowded both Boulder City Council chambers and an overflow room during the council‘s special meeting on Monday, which they convened in response to a March 1 incident in which police officers confronted a black man who was picking up trash outside his house.

Dozens of those people took to the podium to address council, sometimes with emotional testimony about their experiences living as people in color in Boulder and facing racism and undue harassment and threats from police officers.

At the outset of the meeting, city manager Jane Brautigam stated her support for Boulder Police Chief Greg Testa and his leadership, and she announced that the city had selected former Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett to conduct an independent review of the process — a selection that several people later in the evening criticized.

“Many of us have seen a video filmed by a community member that captured part of this interaction and are deeply trouble by what we‘ve observed,” Brautigam said.

Zayd Atkinson, the young man who police confronted and a student at Naropa University, was the first to criticize the choice of Garnett.

He said city leadership has been putting on the appearance of racial sensitivity, but it is for appearance only. He asked for an independent review and in response officials chose a former prosecutor, ignoring his request and again taking his power away, he said.

“I had guns pointed at me because of the color of my skin,” Atkinson said. “This is unacceptable treatment of anyone.”

‘We‘ve got to have action‘

Beyond criticizing the choice of Garnett, many commenters called for , as well as additional training in racial sensitivity and de-escalation techniques for Boulder police officers.

Annett James, president of the NAACP‘s Boulder branch, said the organization advocates for smarter, results-based criminal justice policies, and calls for an end to racial profiling at all levels.

“The incident of March 1 was dire,” she said. “It was traumatizing to the individual. It stagnated our community.”

James said city and police leaders declined dialogue and chose to retreat behind the proverbial “ongoing investigation” gate. When the investigation concludes, she said, the community will be there to meet them.

“We‘ll be there again to extend an invitation for dialogue, for support and for collaboration,” she said. “We‘ll be there to ask that you move immediately to establish, embrace and empower a citizen oversight board.”

Poet Norma Johnson read a poem from her collection, “A Poem for My White Friends,” which she said was largely inspired by her life in Boulder and which is now used by educators nationwide in their discussions about race.

“I wrote that poem in 2008, and it‘s now being used nationally by educators to inspire discussions about race,” she said. “I hope you‘ve been able to hear, because that was my prayer when I wrote this, that it could be heard and felt.”

Maria Richmond, a Boulder NAACP member, joined the call for an independent community oversight board with broad investigatory powers and binding rulings.

“No more shall our voices be heard but our message muted,” she said.

Madelyn Woodley, another NAACP member, said she worked with the police department in Memphis to create a citizen review board that‘s still in effect. Her sister, Glenda Robinson, spoke, too. She once marched with Martin Luther King Jr., she said.

“We‘re back here,” Robinson said. “We‘ve got to have conversations, but we‘ve got to have action. It takes the actions of everybody here.”

Other commenters shared the stories of the racial trauma that they or their loved ones have experienced in Boulder.

Anna Segur spoke for her husband, who she said was too traumatized to speak. He was misidentified and pulled over while driving with their two children in the backseat, and he was made to sit on his knees in the street with Boulder police training guns on the back of his head, she said.

“I‘m just really saddened that we‘re here four years later,” she said. “It‘s happened to another male.”

‘You gave me nothing‘

Ja‘mal Gilmore said city leaders bulldoze every hurdle white kids have in their why while erecting more hurdles in front of black kids.

“My thing with Boulder and this place is I‘m offended by you,” he said. “… I did everything you asked of me, and you gave me nothing.”

He and his wife argue about how strict he is with his son, he said.

“I teach him to be perfect, better than perfect,” Gilmore said. “Your white kids can come up here and be crazy.”

Maria Murillo said that her grown children have left the community, despite the fact that she‘s lived here more than 20 years, to live in places that feel welcoming and integrated, she said.

“This does happen all the time,” she said. “You can see the cry from the community. We are hurting a lot.”

She was among those who called for better data on the police department, too.

Shirly White, a former member of the Human Relations Commission, referenced the city‘s contract with Hillard Heintze and said that the HRC has asked for quarterly data, which they‘ve yet to see.

In 2015, the city contracted Hillard Heintze to examine racial bias in the Boulder Police Department. , a black person in Boulder was about twice as likely, compared with the city‘s overall demographics, to be cited for traffic and misdemeanor offenses. The report also cited the department‘s shortcomings in record collection.

“We haven‘t seen anything like that yet,” White said.

In closing the meeting, which stretched just past 9 p.m. and in which city leaders spoke very little, Mayor Suzanne Jones teared up. Council heard a loud call for action, she said.

“We hear you,” she said. “You can hold us accountable on that front.”

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