The state of Colorado Springs is good, but torn.
Inside Broadmoor Hall on Thursday afternoon, Mayor John Suthers took the stage for his fifth annual state of the city address, his first since his landslide reelection last November.
Suthers, who spoke as part of a Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce & EDC luncheon, praised the city’s vibrant growth and desirability and called on the hundreds in attendance to pitch in for the sake of the city’s infrastructure, parks and more. He quoted the city’s forebearers and their prophecy of the city’s future greatness.
“And our responsibility as the current citizens of this great city is very clear. We must carry forth their legacy to the very best of our ability,” Suthers said. “We must continue to build a city that matches our scenery, a shining city at the foot of a great mountain.”
Suthers’ address was interrupted multiple times by protesters, however, while outside, about a dozen protesters chanted “No justice, no peace,” as they demanded an independent investigation into the Aug. 3 fatal police shooting of 19-year-old De’Von Bailey.
“The state of the city is police brutality,” one woman yelled throughout the hall. “De’Von Bailey, shot three times in the back by CSPD, running away.”
She was escorted out of the room by police and security who were met with more protesters in the hallways.
At least twice more, protesters interrupted Suthers calling for “justice for De’Von” and for the city to “protect our children from police brutality.”
Suthers maintained his composure during the protests and later noted that he believes police officers have the most difficult job in American cities. Those officers are confronted with split-second decisions to protect the community and themselves, Suthers said, and last month the city saw that those decisions can end fatally.
And those decisions must be scrutinized, he said.
“But our police officers, just like everyone else, should have the benefit of due process and the rule of law,” he said.
Throughout much of the rest of his address, Suthers touted the city’s economic successes. On the way are a downtown stadium and arena and a new visitors center for the Air Force Academy as a part of the City for Champions initiative, he said.
A new Summit House atop Pikes Peak is also under construction and expected to be finished next fall, Suthers said. That work should be joined by a new Pikes Peak Cog Railway, which is expected to begin running in 2021.
The city’s airport is attracting additional airline traffic and an Amazon distribution center is nearly complete nearby, he said. But more work is needed.
Suthers urged the crowd to support the renewal of Ballot Issue 2C, a five-year sales tax that creates a dedicated funding stream to repair the city’s streets and sidewalks. The ballot item proposes a lower rate than the one in place, 5.7 cents on every $10 spent, which is expected to raise $57 million a year for the work.
He also asked the crowd to support a $7 million TABOR retention question, on the November ballot as item 2B, which would be dedicated to improvements of the city’s parks.
“We have parks capital needs that amount to tens of millions of dollars,” he said. “And we should make investments to remedy this problem while times are good and we can do so without raising taxes.”
Suthers noted that the city continues to need additional affordable housing and services for those suffering from homelessness and more.
Still, outside protesters wondered where they fit in with the city’s progress and priorities.
“Are we even a part of this city?” asked protester Tiara Reid.
“The state of the city might be strong, but the state of oppression is strong as well,” fellow protester Shaun Walls said. “Right now they’re not even allowing us to breathe,” Walls said. “Let’s talk about how people on the southeast side are dying 16 years earlier than everybody else.”
Even local elected officials were split on the topic. As El Paso County commissioner Longinos Gonzalez Jr. passed by the protest he accepted a sheet from Walls asking “who will police the police?”
“You should ask the mayor if he’s ever hosted a town hall,” Gonzalez said. “I don’t think he ever has.”
But City Councilman Tom Strand complained that the protests are not constructive and noted that his second term is more contentious and vitriolic than his first.
Instead of division, Strand said he hoped the community would focus on working together and building trust.