What a mess this nation is in. Except for the coronavirus, it’s a result of struggles of our own making. Shouldn’t 2020, the very beginning of a new millennium, become the time when we vow to change how we treat each other?
Our nation has been in at least as bad shape on a few occasions: the civil war, Jim Crow, the Great Depression, the world wars, and civil rights and Vietnam in the ‘60s. But the deepest wound the nation has refused to heal for 400 years has put us in the ICU on life support.
"What’s the job of us citizens? Civil justice and rights for all or justice for some and a back-of-the-hand smack and jail for everyone else?"
It’s up to us to bring the country to health. The preamble of the Constitution states that justice is essential to a “perfect union.” For too many in this country, justice doesn’t happen.
Take recent demonstrations as examples. Coloradans have protested two large issues within a month: the impingements of the coronavirus on lifestyle and the George Floyd tragedy.
In the first example, mostly white protesters showed up at the Civic Center Park and the Capitol in Denver, some bearing arms and emphatically not wearing anti-virus masks. They stood with their military-style weapons on the Capitol’s steps in camouflage outfits. These actions were aggressive. Neither the State Patrol nor Denver police used chemicals such as tear gas or made arrests, according to news reports.
In the second example, protesters of many racial and ethnic backgrounds and ages gathered in the same arena, now identified by our federal government as a “battle space.” Graffiti, car and property damage, gun shots, and tear gas filled the space. The origin of the gun shots is unknown and one demonstrator was intentionally hit by a car. Over three days the first week of June, 284 demonstrators were arrested, mostly for curfew violations. Some were arrested for arson and assault. Since the first days, protesters and police have reached detente.
The George Floyd murder was the injustice felt around the world. Young Americans, African-American, Latinx, native, Asian, and white are emphatically “sick and tired” of how their black and brown brothers and sisters are treated by law enforcement and government, broadly defined. A federal judge in Denver finally ordered the police to stop using tear gas, rubber bullets and other "less-than-lethal" forces like flash grenades during protests. People demonstrated within their right to assembly. Everyone backed off. Yet for some in the state, the protests will always be seen as always violent.
Millennial and generation Y and Z Coloradans have experienced a great recession knocking them on their heels, an anti-younger generation Trump administration, under-funded education, and too expensive health care. To salt these wounds, the coronavirus has taken away starting-off jobs for younger workers, and people of color experience constant, unremitting hassle and sometimes violence by law enforcement.
At least as profound, baby boomers and post-baby boom citizens who are African American, Latinx, native, and Asian have had 50, 60, 70, 80 years of this stuff. Sick and tired certainly doesn’t come close to describing their frustration that while much has changed, not nearly enough has changed.
Even now, the recession of the coronavirus is apparently dissipating for white Americans whose unemployment rate is dropping. But African-Americans, Latinx, Asians, and native Americans are stuck at 20 percent without jobs.
The current bill at the legislature, SB20-217, Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity, is a step toward more police accountability. But a larger solution has to occur within the heart and mind of our culture. What’s the job of police — to hassle and arrest or serve and protect? To dominate the streets or keep the peace?
What’s the job of us citizens? Civil justice and rights for all or justice for some and a back-of-the-hand smack and jail for everyone else? Some people will always harbor ill will. But as a society, as a united people in a complicated world, ill will and injustice must not be our MO.
Thankfully, our mountains continue in clear and beautiful view across the spine of our state. Their majesty should be our inspiration.
Paula Noonan owns Colorado Capitol Watch, the state’s premier legislature tracking platform.