The Indy 500: Still trying to act like a lady

The Colorado Independent's editor, Susan Greene, was handcuffed and detained by Denver police officers on Colfax Avenue on July 5, 2018. (Screenshot via body-cam footage provided by city of Denver)
The Colorado Independent's editor, Susan Greene, was handcuffed and detained by Denver police officers on Colfax Avenue on July 5, 2018. (Screenshot via body-cam footage provided by city of Denver)

I have been trying to “act like a lady.” 

That was my order from two Denver cops who handcuffed me a year ago today when I attempted to take a picture of one of their badges. Officer James Brooks apparently didn’t want the attention after he had made up bogus legal reasons for why he was refusing to let me photograph his colleagues’ handling of a black man they had detained and forced to sit naked on a Colfax Avenue sidewalk.

Brooks and officer Adam Paulsen weren’t interested in hearing me say they were violating my First Amendment rights and hurting me. They were more concerned that I submit to them, wrestling my arms behind my back, no matter how unconstitutional their reason. 

“Stand up straight,” Paulsen said as I was being cuffed. “Act like a lady.”

“Stand up and act like a lady,” Brooks repeated.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” I responded. “‘Act like a lady?’”

“There you go,” Brooks told me, locking the cuffs into place. “Now you can go to jail.”

I didn’t end up going to jail because, even in Denver – a city run by an administration with a dubious record on civil rights and other sticky subjects – the officers’ supervisor had the good sense to tell them to let me go. It helped, of course, that I’m a middle-aged white reporter, and that this nonsense went down in front of the state Capitol in broad daylight. I have little doubt it would have lasted longer than 14 minutes and resulted in more than bruised wrists had it been dark and had I been a person of color, or with mental illness, or without a home questioning the officers’ authority.

Still, my story made headlines when the bodycam video was released in August and again in February when Brooks and Paulsen were found to have violated city policy and docked two days of pay – a slap on the wrist. 

And still, our sprinkler guy, a Lyft driver, my doctor, the woman at our pet store, a guy in our bagel shop, one of the officers who works security at the courthouse, one of my son’s friends, that friend’s mom, my friend’s dad and countless other random people keep asking what happened about that handcuffing thing. 

“Nothing,” I’ve told them, because it is the simplest way around a more complicated answer.

What has happened in the last 12 months is that our lawyers Mari Newman and Andy McNulty have, on behalf of The Colorado Independent and myself, threatened to sue Mayor Michael Hancock’s administration for violating our 1st Amendment rights. Our attorneys have been working to persuade Denver to modify its policies and training so this never happens again. 

Specifically, we want all Denver police officers to be trained every year on the First Amendment, the law that, among countless other rights, allows anyone – not just the news media – to take photos of them, of their badges, and of how they’re doing their jobs. We also want all officers to undergo annual gender sensitivity training that might stop them from acting like sexist pigs. And, while they’re learning how to deal with the ladies, we’re also asking that they learn how to work more sensitively with people of color, LGBTQ people, homeless people, people with disabilities, and other vulnerable populations.

I was incredulous to learn last summer that Hancock – who touts his background in civil rights – hasn’t required such training. One year later, after a highly contentious re-election bid in which he was slammed for his and his administration’s record on transparency, police accountability, civil rights and sexual harassment, I’m even more incredulous that he still hasn’t.

So, 10 days before he swears in for his third term as mayor, I want Hancock to know that the journalists and watchdogs and residents of this city will be watching him and his administration more closely than ever. And, in hopes that our lawyers and his lawyers can strike an agreement on policy reform soon, I am in the most ladylike way I know urging him to stand up straight and do the right thing.

Please join us this Thursday, July 11 for The Colorado Independent’s “Act Like a Lady” shindig, our annual summer celebration of our work and community. Some of us will be dancing like fools. Others of us won’t. In any case, please drop by Denver’s Mercury Café starting at 8 p.m. to let your hair down and blow off some steam. “Act Like a Lady” stickers and t-shirts will be available. Bring your friends, husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, sisters, brothers, kids, parents, neighbors and coworkers. Drinks on us for Denver police officers!

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Act Like a Lady

5 COMMENTS

  1. Well, thanks Susan. It is frustrating to see the studied ignorance and overreactions from the local police again and again. I appreciate that they have a tough job, one of the toughest in our society. And i appreciate that the majority of cops are good guys and gals who are working hard to do the right thing while frequently getting dissed and treated like dirt. And despite all, they simply have to push through it and protect us. Tough job, especially without training and ongoing support.
    May that training and support come to be. And next time, I hope you “act more like a NICE lady!”
    Peace

  2. Alas, it’s too long a drive, but I’d love to be there for “Act Like A Lady” night, and will be, at least in spirit. I hope it’s a great success. Teachers – even old, broken down ones like me – are accustomed to leaving their First Amendment rights at the figurative schoolhouse door, or, depending upon the school district, abandoning them altogether once a teaching contract is signed. That’s pretty much the way I felt for 30 years – if I wanted to keep my job and support my family, I needed to keep my mouth shut. Fortunately, I’m now old and and my self-censoring instinct is gradually diminishing….

  3. I saw that video very soon after that incident occurred. I was so upset with the police for wanting to escalate a situation that didn’t need to be escalated! Their behavior towards you was ridiculous and sad as hell. You handled yourself with decorum and confidence. Thank you for showing me a way to behave if I’m ever caught in any similar situation. I hope I will be as brave. Thank you, Sally Williams

  4. I hope that better training will counter police officers tendencies to overreact to situations that require common sense and tact rather than with a strong arm. Yes, I know police officers have a tough job, but I believe they’ll be a lot safer and we’ll be a lot safer if they are better trained in conflict management – and the 1st Amendment.

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