The recent Jared Polis town hall in Colorado Springs had some unexpected drama. Apparently, protesting in Colorado is not as safe as it used to be.

The town hall began on a positive note. It was well attended. The parking lot at Sierra High School was full, and some parked and walked over from the YMCA next door. People converged in an orderly line to get into the auditorium.

Outside protestors held signs. They did not block sidewalks or approach those going inside. T-shirts on the protesters ranged from “Recall Polis” to “My governor is an idiot”.

I thought the shirt was disrespectful, but a funny expression of political angst.

School security guard fired over altercation with protester at Gov. Polis town hall in Colorado Springs

Polis supporters sat in front, escorted by Sierra students to their seats. Protesters sat in back, unescorted but seemingly able to find one another. No big deal. Not yet.

Moderators from a local nonpartisan group — Citizens Project gathered questions from the audience. Town hall attendees wrote their queries on 3-by-5-inch lined cards. The event was live streamed via social media for attendees who could not watch in person.

Polis Town Hall 3
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Protestors wave signs at passing cars on the sidewalk next to Sierra High School in Colorado Springs, Saturday, May 4, 2019. (Photo by Kelsey Brunner/The Gazette)

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The governor was introduced. Surprisingly, he wore blue tennis shoes with his suit. Seemed comfortable.

Gov. Polis shared about bills with bipartisan support. This included a reference to President Donald Trump signing a special waiver for Coloradans to be able import cheaper pharmaceuticals from Canada.

He seemed proud of the bipartisan initiatives he has signed into law.

Then the questions began. Some Sierra High School students took to the stage with the governor. Not surprisingly, their questions were about school-related matters. In answering those questions, the governor deferred to school boards but tried to define for the students how he sees government as supporting them.

Then questions were taken from the audience. A business leader asked a question how the governor’s office would support minority business. A community member asked what would be done to clean up aquifers in Fountain affected by toxic pollutants. Others asked how rural areas would be supported by Polis.

There were some boos from the back of the auditorium when the “Sex-Ed” bill was brought up in a question. In fact, part of the audience chanted “Liar!” as a rebuttal to the governor’s answer to the question. One of the moderators asked that disagreement be respectful.

When a question was asked about the new “Oil and Gas Bill,” the back of the auditorium became loud. The moderators asked the audience to dissent respectfully after a “Recall Polis!” chant began. I understand why that happened. The chant was loud, and to answer questions, quiet was needed. After a few more questions, the event wrapped up. The governor left the stage. People began leaving the auditorium.

That’s when the drama started.

A security guard attempted to remove a woman from the premises when she displayed a piece of cloth with a “recall Polis” message. In the video that captured the incident, the guard yanked the woman over several of the seats and finally to the floor after he took the scarf from her.

Multiple people taped the incident and called out the guard for his behavior. He was eventually fired from Harrison District 32. I think the incident was assault. His firing is deserved.

This incident should make us ask ourselves how far dissent should go. I’m all for protest. After all, I’m from a community that made civil protest an art in the ’60s. But MLK-style protestors carried respectful signs, didn’t boo and never screamed “liar” at anyone. They left anger at home.

MLK-style protestors were trained for absolute calm in the face of adversity. Always civil behavior is a large part of the reason that we won the battle for civil rights.

I support the rights of the protester at the town hall. No one should have touched her. I want us to consider what moral authority is. Only the most civil expression in protest brings moral authority. Give my words some thought or prayer. You’ll see it.

Rachel Stovall is a longtime community advocate and organizer.

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.

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