Guest Post: Boulder, we have a problem

Photo of Sammie Lawrence IV by Susan Pfretzschner
Photo of Sammie Lawrence IV by Susan Pfretzschner

Sammie Lawrence IV is a soft-spoken young man with a head of curls and a heart for justice. He saw some friends having a picnic in Boulder on Friday and became alarmed when police came by to ticket them for littering.

It looks to us that, in a city that’s purportedly a bastion of inclusion and social tolerance, the picnickers were targeted because they’re homeless and Sammie because he’s black.

Sammie video recorded the police interference with his phone, as is his First Amendment right. (To see the video, click here and click on “videos” in the column on the left).The officers didn’t like his camera pointed at them. They shouted “drop your weapon,” referring to the walking stick he uses to keep his balance. He told them that he’s disabled and needs the stick as a walking aid.

No matter, an officer jumped on Sammie and tackled him to the ground (as you can see at 2:40 seconds on the video). Police arrested him suspicion of obstructing a peace officer and resisting arrest.

This type of abuse of force isn’t an anomaly in Boulder. A month ago, police here overreacted to a young black college student who was on his own lawn cleaning up trash with a stick. Guns drawn, they told him to “drop his weapon.”

Police in Boulder, as well as nationwide, need to stop calling for young black men to drop their weapons no matter what they are holding in their hands. A cell phone is not a weapon, nor are keys, or a tool for picking up trash, or a properly used walking stick.

And the people of Boulder need to wake up to the fact that our city isn’t, in practice, nearly as tolerant as it’s assumed – or hopes – to be.

Last Tuesday, the Boulder City Council and Jane Brautigam, Boulder’s city manager, agreed to work with the Boulder County NAACP to create a police oversight board to keep excessive force cases in check and the Boulder Police Department accountable. It was only three days later, while leaving a meeting about creating that board, that Sammie came face to face with the kind of systemic racism and amped-up overuse of power that needs to watchdogged and held to account.

Sammie is a member of the Boulder County NAACP. We stand in solidarity with him, and with the victim in the March incident, as well as the countless other people of color, disabled people and homeless people who are mistreated by our police.

The formation of a police oversight board for the city of Boulder Police Department needs to be done with care, but also needs to be done quickly.

The Colorado Independent occasionally runs guest posts from government officials, local experts and concerned citizens on a variety of topics. These posts are meant to provide diverse perspectives and do not represent the views of The Independent. To pitch a guest post, please contact tips@coloradoindependent.com or visit our submission page

9 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for your analysis and well-considered conclusions. When the powerful – in this case,police officers – act unreasonably and innocents suffer, public safety is not served and our perception of the police, and of authority, is diminished.

    • I know this whole thing is fucking stupid in my opinion and this whole lawsuit they keep speaking of is going to do nothing but drain their pockets because they will it win unfortunately.

  2. In a Daily Camera article from 2016, Sammie Lawrence says he wants to become a Boulder firefighter. When did he become disabled enough to need a big stick as an aid? I’ve used a cane since 2011 because of an arthritic hip, and when a police officer has asked me to put it aside before we talk that’s what I’ve done. NOT a big deal, unless you have a chip on your shoulder the size of Gibraltar. Typically, officers will also ask you to keep your hands out of your pockets. Again, this is for officer safety and is NOT a civil rights issue.

    On Reddit r/Boulder, Sammie says that hospital staff doubted his claims of being disabled by a seizure disorder; does this mean everybody is against him, and only Sammie tells the truth? Give me a break!

    Something else that bothers me about Sammie. As far back as 2016, he had contact with Boulder PD’s Homeless Outreach Team so he should understand how interactions between police and homeless citizens occur. See my blog, with a great pic of Sammie and Officer Abel Ramos in conversation: https://homelessphilosopher.wordpress.com/2019/04/10/a-very-white-photo-of-sammie-lawrence-from-2016/

    As I also said in another post: [Sammie] also posts comments to the Facebook page of Boulder Rights Watch, the local advocacy group for the worst-behaved transients who have no respect for themselves, no respect for others, and no respect for the community in which they live. The more extreme members of this group are always trying to gin-up controversy by playing the Race Card. I’m NOT buying it in Sammie’s case.

    Young men in Boulder, no matter their race, need to stop behaving stupidly around police officers. Fortunately, Boulder has just about the most laid back cops anywhere in America. In Kansas City, MO — where I lived in the inner city as a homeless man for a couple of years — Zayd Atkinson and Sammie Lawrence would both have been treated much more harshly than they were in Boulder, CO. It’s only a small stretch to think that both could have been shot by cops in KC.

    There are lots of details about Sammie that make his take on the interaction he initiated seem pretty sketchy. Maybe he should lose the bad attitude, and also stop hanging around other troublemakers.

    • EXACTLY!!!! He defends some of Boulders worst people and it’s sad and what this post doesn’t tell you is is that one of the homeless people Sammie was defending was arrested for assaulting somebody else with a baseball bat. Like go do something useful with your time instead of making a fool of yourself trying to be a super hero to these homeless people.

  3. This article is garbage. The Boulder Police are increasingly professionals, and that person was just trying to instigate a confrontation with an officer trying to do his job. The officer didn’t care he was filming, he cared about the potential weapon. Officers have been hurt with items much less dangerous than 6 foot wood poles, when you’re asked to put it down or back up and don’t follow those lawful orders, expect to be arrested for interfering with an officer or investigation. It’s the law. Why would you defend a criminal who broke the law and are crying about the consequences, over a public servant being harassed for doing his job? This is trash journalism and you should be ashamed.

    • This is a guest post, the equivalent of a reader-submitted op-ed from the Boulder chapter of the NAACP. You are welcome to submit your own point of view and we will, as we do all guest posts, consider for publication.

  4. Couple of nice little fascists here in the comment section justifying pigs being pigs. Classy, Boulder.

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