Citing institutional weakness and failure, a Denver activist coalition is demanding federal authorities intervene to address police brutality in the city.
The Colorado Progressive Coalition (CPC), along with victims and the families of victims of high-profile recent alleged assaults, announced a petition effort Tuesday aimed at persuading the U.S. Department of Justice to launch an investigation.
The move comes in the wake of the decision by the city’s Civil Service Commission Board to reinstate officers fired for lying about a 2009 confrontation at the Denver Diner. The incident, like other of the recent incidents motivating the activists, was captured on video and to many seemed a clear case of abuse of authority. To the men and women injured during the confrontation and to their champions, the board’s decision reinforced the impression that the police act on the city’s streets with impunity, buffered by what former Independent Monitor Richard Rosenthal and the ACLU have called a “culture of silence.”
“[W]e have been working with the city to confront serious systemic failures in Denver law enforcement’s ability to dismantle a culture of police brutality and whispered discriminatory practices,” said Mu Son Chi, racial justice director at CPC, “[but] issuing this request for millions of Americans to join our petition for federal help create[s]… increased awareness of families in our community who are forced to fear those who have taken up the calling to protect us.”
CPC Co-Executive Director Miriam Peña, who was handcuffed by police during the diner confrontation and watched it unfold while seated against a wall, said allowing the officers back on the street sent the wrong message to the public.
“This is a warning to all residents of Denver. No one is safe when abusive officers return to the streets,” she said.
Anthony DeHerrera, a Pueblo sheriff’s deputy whose son Michael was beaten by Denver police in 2009, said the board’s decision spotlights holes in the system.
“Yet again, the officers are getting off on a technicality. It is another part of the appeals process that should be changed,” he said. “Seeing these officers reinstated is re-victimizing the victims of police brutality.”
The city commission found that, although the police reports on the diner confrontation were inaccurate, they weren’t designed to “deceive or hide the truth.”
The coalition hopes to draw petition support from all around the county and has released a video to help make its case.
The effort comes the same day the U.S. Justice Department and the FBI launched an investigation into the murder in Sanford, Fla., of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, a tragedy that seems to have been mostly ignored by local authorities for nearly a month and that is underlining apparent systemic race-based law-enforcement failures there.
[ Image: 2009 confrontation at the Denver Diner, CPC video screengrab. ]