A virtual town hall meeting headed by faith leaders, the Denver Citizen Oversight Board and others tying Denver community voices into creating a task force to “re-imagine” policing was held Tuesday evening in a capacity-filled Zoom chat that spilled over onto Facebook Live.
Some 300 people filled the Zoom chat and the spillover crowd joined the conversation on Facebook Live on policing, some sharing their experiences with police and other sharing ideas and visions on how to create a reshaped system that better serves the community, especially people of color.
Katina Banks, a Denver native and attorney, and chair of the city’s Citizen Oversight Board, said the meeting, a first in a series, is to form a “community-based task force” to help end police violence and systemic racism and to “reform the criminal justice system” which is overrun with racial disparities.
Banks and Pastor Robert Davis, vice president of the Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance, steered the meeting, encouraging questions and participation.
Davis said current policing models, in Denver and elsewhere, are built, in part, on white supremacy and the oppression and suppression of minorities and others, including the homeless, the poor and the mentally ill.
“This is a community lead effort of the people, for the people and by the people,” Davis said.
Recent protests calling for justice in the deaths of George Floyd and Elijah McClain by police have rallied diverse gatherings across the nation “calling for systematic change,” Davis said. “Fundamentally, re-imagine public safety in the 21st century.”
Lani, a Five Points resident, said she sees police routinely “harassing” homeless people in her neighborhood. Lani would like to see the city use more resources “getting people housed.” It would be a “huge benefit and a huge decrease” in police service calls.
“We have criminalized the homeless in the city,” Lani said. “Let’s decriminalize the homeless.”
Caroline said police in Denver, and elsewhere in Colorado, have a long history of racism.
“Keep in mind this isn’t a current issue, it’s a long-standing issue,” she said. “We can only do so much as citizens, we need to look at holding police accountable and making sure they are transparent as well.”
When necessary, police should be fired for certain infractions, and they should be charged with crimes when they commit crimes,” Caroline said.
For the first 30 minutes or so the meeting was moving at a good pace and various people were voicing their concerns, opinions and visions.
Then, the meeting was hijacked, first on the “chat” display with racist and vulgar comments. Then, on the video screen with bigotry and a pornographic image.
The group shut down the chat feature and regained control of the meeting.
“I’m very disappointed and disgusted,” Banks said of the disturbing interruption. “This is the kind of world we have that we have to change.”
The group had planned to splinter off into smaller groups, but security concerns led them to continue as one large meeting instead.
The task force being formed has the support of Denver police and it will be finalized after a series of public meetings. Other groups involved in the formation include the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado and the Conflict Center. More information can be found on the Denver Citizen Oversight Board’s Facebook page.