District 9 Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca and a coalition of community partners have sent a letter to Denver’s Office of the Independent Monitor and the Department of Public Safety, calling on them to investigate accounts from bystanders, protesters and journalists who were injured by Denver police officers over the weekend. Her office is also collecting accounts of uses of excessive force from participants and bystanders.
Although DPD Chief Paul Pazen supported the deployment of “less-lethal” weapons such as tear gas, pepperballs, and incendiary devices, he has not quantified the harm caused to civilians by these methods, including making public their number of injuries.
“Protests against police abuse should not result in more police abuse,” CdeBaca says in the letter. “It appears that once the decision was made to shut down the protests, everyone present was targeted with the same level of violence, resulting in injuries, some requiring emergency care. At the very least, the excessive police response has caused trauma to an already traumatized and grieving community.”
“Protests against police abuse should not result in more police abuse.” Candi CdeBaca, Denver Councilwoman
CdeBaca, along with community partners and nearly 200 petition signers, is formally requesting that Safety Director Murphy Robinson and Independent Monitor Nick Mitchell provide a report examining the militarized police presence, where numerous law enforcement agencies from surrounding counties, as well as the National Guard, were called in. “As the Councilwoman for a district that already has an extremely high police presence, I am seeking answers for how the determination was made to use vehicles and tactics of war against Denver civilians.”
Specifically, CdeBaca is calling for an investigation into the following activities:
-How, when and where pepper spray, rubber bullets, tear gas were used, and a logging process to track frequency of use by which officers; the environmental impact, including issues raised in this Harvard Study, and how bystanders, including those living in the area, were impacted.
-The use of military vehicles, including which partner agencies brought them, and for what specific purposes.
-An explanation about why journalists were targeted, even though they were clearly identified as members of the press.
-The number of reported civilian injuries, including the type of injuries, the manner caused, and location where these injuries occurred.
-Alternative methods that should have been provided for free speech expression when the curfew was imposed.
CdeBaca and community leaders hope that with an independent report, the community can better assess the effectiveness of DPD’s use of force policy as it pertains to protesters. “It is inadequate for Chief Pazen to claim that the community helped to revise the use of force policy—in response to years of violent incidents by police—but not address the potential civil rights violations that community was also concerned about,” said Xochitl Gaytan, Co-Chair of the Colorado Latino Forum, one of the letter’s signatories. In 2012, the ACLU and the Independent Monitor called for policy reforms after the 2011 Occupy Denver protest where police fired pepper balls and tear gas indiscriminately into a retreating crowd.
CLF Co-Chair Ean Tafoya added, “If we want to honor the changes that the community fought for and address excessive force situations, then DPD must also be accountable to the community by owning up to their mistakes that resulted in injuries to civilians and property damage, including the increased COVID-19 risk from aerosol weapons.”
Rev. Dr. Robert Davis, Vice President of the Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance, said, “Community leaders worked hard for nearly a year to develop a comprehensive use of force policy for Denver Police. The only way to assess whether the spirit and letter of the policy is being implemented is with a detailed report. While we are angry and frustrated with agitators who are attempting to detract from reform through their looting and vandalism, we want to make sure our police are not abusing any citizens and that innocent citizens, especially our homeless population, are not becoming casualties of this policing effort.”
Ultimately, CdeBaca wants the findings from an investigation to inform policy changes, including the banning of chemical agents on civilians, and believes it was negligent for officers to use toxic aerosols during a public health crisis. “We need to strengthen the policy that takes into account vulnerable populations, like our unhoused residents who were caught in a crossfire of rubber bullets and flash-bang grenades. It is insufficient for the Mayor to just tell them to file a complaint when they are already traumatized by the camping ban sweeps.”
CdeBaca has also reached out to The Black Visions Collective Movement and Legal Fund, a Black, trans and queer-led organization, about their Reclaim the Block initiative, in which organizers work with City Council members to move money from the public safety budget, which in Denver comprises the largest share of the General Fund, into other areas of the city’s budget that truly promote community health and safety by strengthening community-led safety initiatives. “I would rather invest some of our tax dollars into addressing the underlying causes for the anger and hopelessness many people feel today due to Denver’s unaffordability crisis, rather than continuing to militarize our police department against the people.”
For those who wish to file a complaint or ask questions, CdeBaca urges them to contact: Office of the Independent Monitor, phone: 720-913-3306, email: firstname.lastname@example.org; and online: https://www.denvergov.org/content/denvergov/en/office-of-the-independent-monitor/commendations-complaints.html
Those affected are also encouraged to share their accounts of excessive force with the District 9 office by filling out a Google survey reporting form. Identifying information will be kept confidential, and information collected is intended for use by local legislators to inform policy change recommendations in the City of Denver.
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