The Bookers are back. Family pushes for reform in the city that killed street preacher

Every July 9, a group gathers outside the Denver jail to remember a moment in city history the Hancock administration would rather forget.

That was the day five years ago when five sheriff’s department staffers killed Marvin Booker, a frail street preacher, by piling on him, tasering him and choking him in the jail’s booking area.

Four of the five still work for the city. None have been reprimanded for excessive force or lies they told after his killing – even in court. And none have been prosecuted even though a federal civil jury last year found the deputies were not only culpable for Booker’s homicide, but also stretched and covered up the facts of the case.

But, then, no killer cop has been prosecuted in Denver for more than a generation.

“They manage to prosecute in Baltimore, even without a videotape. But that’s not how things are done here, I guess,” said sister-in-law Gail Booker.

Booker’s family is a clan of pastors from Memphis who knew Martin Luther King and raised their children in the promise of the civil rights movement. As a young man, after King was assassinated in his hometown, Marvin memorized MLK’s speeches by heart. Marvin was said to deliver them in a tone and cadence just like the slain civil rights leader. If you closed your eyes, some say, you’d think it was King.

It was with their eyes closed that 30 or so family members, friends, police watchdogs and social justice activists stood in silence Thursday. The sun was shining and the sky above the jail was deep blue.

But, somehow, there was rain, big wet drops cooling the group in the afternoon heat, soothing a grief Booker’s family says is still raw — unmitigated, they say, even by the $6 million in city tax dollars the federal jury awarded them.

“That’s Marvin,” one relative said of the unlikely raindrops.

“Sure is,” added another.

Members of Booker’s family come to Denver each July from all over the country. They say they’ll keep coming year after year to remember Marvin, to assert that his life mattered and to list the names of other lives that also mattered before they, too, were ended by Denver law enforcers.

The family members say they’ll also keep coming for another reason – to meet with activists and community leaders supporting their efforts against excessive force and their work pushing for state laws and city-policy changes to keep folks safe from excessive force.

“We live in a city that has never taken responsibility for the death of Marvin Louis Booker,” said Dr. Timothy Tyler, pastor of Shorter Community AME Church, the congregation that has hosted and supported the Booker family since Marvin’s death.

Tyler and other Metro Denver church leaders have for years derided Mayor Michael Hancock for not having apologized for – or even acknowledged – its part in Booker’s death. The administration doggedly tried to defend the city throughout most of Hancock’s first term in office.

Tyler also is sniping at other officials. During a community meeting hosted by the Bookers’ Thursday evening, he slammed District Attorney Mitch Morrissey for never having prosecuted the sheriff’s staff who killed Booker. And he derided Denver Independent Safety Monitor Nicholas Mitchell for staying mostly mum about the case.

Tyler called Mitchell “toothless.” He said the notion of a mayor-appointed watchdog monitoring the safety department is “meaningless, meaningless.”

The Rev. Patrick Demmer of Graham Memorial Community Church pshawed the city’s efforts, five years after Booker’s killing, to study problems in the sheriff’s department.

“Oh, we’ve had so many studies. As an African American, I’m so tired of being studied,” Demmer said. “We need correction, not reflection.”