Too much daytime drinking, too much boredom, too much anxiety and fear have been spilling across our Capitol lawn in recent weeks. First came the gun-toting, MAGA hat wearing, horn honking, anti-vaxxing, "no damned mask for me" crowds, complaining Colorado’s governor was infringing on their constitutional right to spread the coronavirus. Brandishing placards stating, “Fear is the Virus” and “Medical Tyranny” slogans, these protesters seemed aggrieved that their routines had been disturbed. While the abuse of emergency powers is conceivable, their reach is actually premised on the notion of, well, an emergency. Jared Polis makes an unlikely despot.
There is something profoundly dissonant hearing alleged conservatives warn us not to be afraid of COVID-19. For the past three years they’ve offered up their fealty to a president who urges us to fear black Americans (unless they are currently serving in the armed forces and wearing their uniforms), brown Americans (especially recently arrived or undocumented immigrants), socialists, Obamacare, liberal judges, refugees, the press, Democrats, Hillary Clinton, social media, Muslims, Colin Kaepernick, and the murderous Joe Scarborough. They also object to the mistreatment of the wealthy by the envious poor, who fail to properly appreciate the job-creating munificence of their betters while virulently opposing the mere suggestion that American prosperity be democratized. They appear eager to return to wage penury, scoffing at public health precautions along the way. (I recognize we all die eventually, but does that really need to be now?)
The appalling, vicious and surely, criminal execution of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week justifiably startled Coloradans, spotlighting the enduring stain of slavery. During the 150 years since the Civil War we’ve failed to successfully extinguish white racism. It should come as no surprise that a sizable portion of the American people have exhausted their patience. Rather what is surprising is that protest and grievance aren’t expressed daily. There is no want for incidents of structural bias directed against African Americans and other people of color. Opportunities for building a comfortable family life are in such short supply that young black men and women enlist in the military at twice the rate of white Americans and then fight our nasty little wars for us without complaint.
It’s unfortunate that the symbolism of a Capitol protest places the Denver police in the position of maintaining order. In 1972, when I arrived in Denver, its police department ranked first in the nation for civilian slayings. Trigger-happy understates the problem. My son was six feet, six inches tall before his 15th birthday with an inherited anti-authoritarian propensity and a smart mouth. It was time for me to have “the conversation” that every father must have who cares about their child’s safety. I explained that a five foot six, 140-pound cop would be intimidated by his size and at least a little scared of him. No matter how unjust he believed his encounter with law enforcement was, he needed to say, “Yes, officer and no, officer.” Being right and dead would provide cold comfort for both of us. I assured him, “I can afford an attorney. We can sort out any misunderstandings later. Comply and say as little as possible. Keep requesting your phone call.” There is probably more than a little white privilege embroidered in those instructions. Not every father has those resources.
In succeeding years, I’ve had several conversations with black and Hispanic friends about how they handled this conversation with their own sons. What we found we shared in common was how genuinely frightened we were for the safety of our sons, not from terrorists or criminals but from the cops. Fortunately, I never received that phone call from jail, but this may have been as much luck as anything. The Denver Police Department has improved its comportment in recent decades, at least in part because of Hispanic and African-American mayors. It has been suburban police departments, particularly Aurora's, that have struggled to serve and protect a diverse population. I do believe most officers want to do the right thing. They know who the "bad apples" are in their ranks. The culture of “blue wall” silence must change for all our sakes.
Both in Colorado and Minnesota the partisan divide in our politics is contributing to rumors that white nationalists or ANTIFA activists have hijacked the back-to-normal and George Floyd protests. It’s doubtful either the right or left harbors a hidden army-in-waiting that can be flown in to raise hell. Once the dust settles, I suspect we will discover Denver’s rage was home grown. Vandalism and arson prove nothing. Face masks worn by rioters are not virtue signaling but a barrier against facial recognition. Americans, black or white, look the same to our adversaries. Why do we continually fail to see ourselves as the brothers and sisters we are?