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!