Black clergy calls for police restraint around possible Ferguson-related protests
If they believed justice were in fact color blind, African American community leaders wouldn’t be calling for police restraint to insure protestor safety in anticipation of a grand jury decision out of Ferguson, Missouri.
Rev. Dr. William Golson, president of the Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance, has planned a meeting today with Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, city safety manager Stephanie O’Malley, Denver Police Commander Ron Thomas and representatives from Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office in hopes of encouraging police not to over-react to possible protests.
Law enforcement agencies throughout the country are preparing for the aftermath of a grand jury decision on whether to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death in August of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old. The issue of race – specifically that Wilson is white and Brown was black – is heightened around the case. So are concerns that, as the FBI has warned, the forthcoming decision will lead to attacks on police not just in Missouri, but nationwide.
“The announcement of the grand jury’s decision … will likely be exploited by some individuals to justify threats and attacks against law enforcement and critical infrastructure,” reads an FBI bulletin issued on Friday. “This also poses a threat to those civilians engaged in lawful or otherwise constitutionally protected activities.”
“The FBI assesses those infiltrating and exploiting otherwise legitimate public demonstrations with the intent to incite and engage in violence could be armed with bladed weapons or firearms, equipped with tactical gear/gas masks, or bulletproof vests to mitigate law enforcement measures,” the agency warned.
In Colorado – especially Denver and Aurora — the Ministerial Alliance is concerned about police departments possibly preparing lists of “do’s and don’ts” for African Americans and other protestors. They’re also concerned that police will incite violence if they approach protests with armored vehicles, gas masks and riot gear.
Today’s meeting is planned for 12:30 at Golson’s True Light Baptist Church in Denver.
It comes at a particularly sensitive time for Hancock – Denver’s second black mayor — who has been harshly criticized for a string of excessive force cases in his safety department, many of which perpetrated against black men. African-American clergy members have been especially critical of the Hancock administration’s defense of the 2010 death of black street preacher Marvin Booker at the hands of sheriffs deputies at the city’s jail. A federal jury last month handed down an unprecedented $4.65 million award to Booker’s family of prominent southern preachers. Hancock signaled the possibility of appealing the federal civil rights decision or pushing to cut the jury award.
“You say you care about the citizens of Denver. And, as an ordained Baptist deacon, you’re supposed to have a greater duty to God to be compassionate and fair to his people,” Denver Pastor Terrence H. (“Pastor Big T”) Hughes wrote in an open letter to Hancock published last week in The Independent. “Continuing to drag out proceedings in Marvin Booker’s case while his aged, ill mother enters a fifth year awaiting final justice for her son shows no compassion, fairness or responsibility. None.”
An announcement is expected soon on whether the city will pay the full jury award – plus attorneys’ fees, legal costs and interest – for a total of about $6 million.
Denver’s reaction to potential protests about the Ferguson decision will be a test for a police department that showed little tolerance for the Occupy Denver movement that gained momentum shortly after Hancock took office in 2011. On the federal dime, Denver police were outfitted with millions of dollars in what it called “riot protection equipment” before the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
Hancock and his beleaguered safety department will have to gauge whether to heed the FBI’s warnings about possible Ferguson-related protests or the wishes of community leaders who for years have demanded the city reign in its use of force, especially against African Americans.
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