Over the last week, we have had some unexpected excitement in Olympic City USA. The Festival of Lights parade was disrupted by protesters. The Olympic sign at the entrance to the city was defaced with red paint. I hate that any of that happened, but I understand it.
As a city, we will do all that we can to return the status quo. The police will look for the vandals. We might increase security at parades.
But we can only stop protest when we cure the root cause.
As you might recall, a young man named De’Von Bailey was shot and killed by police at the beginning of August. CSPD stopped the young man and his cousin after receiving a report of robbery with a gun.
Family and community members raised concerns about the shooting. An independent investigation by Colorado Bureau of Investigation was demanded.
Their City Council representative has been publicly silent. The attorney general and governor of Colorado offered affirmation of their cause but also did nothing.
The case was referred to a grand jury. The cops were found not guilty of misconduct.
Then the original report of robbery went to court. DeVon’s cousin Lawrence Stoker was acquitted of all charges.
Certain groups are discussing creating some community review boards to help “police the police”. A change has been proposed to the fleeing felon law.
Then Friday, Code Enforcement and CSPD removed the makeshift memorial for De’Von Bailey that had been in the neighborhood since his death. A supporter recorded a CSPD officer saying, “nothing of value here.”
Let me show you the root of our local protests.
Protest is the action of people trying to feel power. By the time you see a person spray painting a street, defacing a sign or disturbing an event, you see how convinced they are that no one will hear them any other way.
Power is a person’s sense of being in personal control of events happening to them. Or others. Some power is granted by title.
Some with no title can extend influence. They move others. Others in power might have enough resources to financially exert control of what happens through buying or donation funds.
Sometimes, one might have relational power. This, too, changes outcomes. Some might have access to those given permission in our society to coerce, stop or even kill as a form of power. Law enforcement or military generally has that kind of power.
But the average citizen in the Pikes Peak region has no access to any of those forms of power.
We are seeing escalating protest because we have failed to empower citizens. We did not include the Baileys or their supporters as participants in what will happen in their lives via government action.
The protests are increasing in intensity as they express anger, grief and pain because they feel out of control in their lives. Deep down, these protesters fear that no one will help if they are harassed. They feel that no one will help if they are shot.
Inadvertently, local government has convinced these citizens that power will be held over them — including death — and that they can’t do anything about it.
Finally, local Code Enforcement took away the one thing that gave those feeling the most powerless some comfort. The DeVon Bailey memorial has been rebuilt — a sad monument to our citizen vs. government dynamic.
I’m not for lawbreaking. I’m not supporting vandalism. I respect and obey the rule of law and believe that our citizens should do likewise.
But it is time to build relationships. In a poignant conversation on the “Richard Randall Show,” I listened to Lawrence Stoker (DeVon Bailey’s cousin) and John Suthers (our mayor) talk to one another. Lawrence shared his complaints. Suthers listened for the first time in this conflict.
So close and yet so far.
Listening is good. What if we guided citizens to system solutions? Helped them to feel empowered?
Instead of yelling defenses in City Council meetings, I am calling for our city officials to solve this problem. Instead of escalating protest, I am calling for activists to try asking for help again to solve this problem.
Let the negotiations begin.
Rachel Stovall is a longtime community advocate and organizer. Also a fundraising, media and marketing consultant, Stovall is most known for singing with her dance band Phat Daddy and the Phat Horn Doctors.