When our state adopts a law with the predominant purpose of combating racism and then my City Council moves to block a key enforcement mechanism of that law, what do we call it?
In response to the murder of George Floyd and the statewide protests that ensued, Colorado adopted Senate Bill 217 to ban the most egregious forms of police misconduct and hold officers accountable for illegal acts committed in bad faith.
While it's far from the final answer on abuse of power and institutional violence against Black lives, SB 217 was an important act of anti-racism and every legislator who supported it — including all but one Senate Republican and a majority of House Republicans — should be applauded.
That includes the bill's primary author, state Rep. Leslie Herod, and the Black leaders who took to the streets to demand this legislation, including Denver Public Schools board member Tay Anderson and Black Lives Matter 5280. My action as a Greenwood Village resident to speak out here is only due to their leadership and inspiration.
Greenwood Village City Council, however, is having none of it. In its first meeting after the passage of SB 217, the Council adopted Resolution 40-20, which declared the city will never find a police officer has acted in bad faith, no matter how heinous the offense, thus prejudging every future police action and creating a loophole in SB 217’s accountability regime.
The council’s stated justifications for the resolution do not stand up to the most cursory scrutiny.
First, city officials suggested the measure was needed to prevent police officers from quitting the force, as one did after passage of the new Colorado law. Do we believe that officers who are unwilling to bear any personal civil liability for egregious violations of state law should be on our streets?
Second, during the discussion of Resolution 40-20, council members posited that Greenwood Village officers are so well trained that, essentially, SB 217 is unnecessary here because they would never violate its terms. If that is the case, though, then Resolution 40-20 itself is unnecessary because Village police officers will never need its exemption from accountability.
Third, council members stated before adopting Resolution 40-20 that this is about showing support for police officers. That would be well and good, of course, if that was really all this is about. As council member Dave Bullock himself said:
“[Resolution 40-20] goes well beyond showing support for our officers … . I think it also sends a message really to the community, the state, and the country that we really have a very different attitude toward law enforcement and the rule of law in Greenwood Village than what is happening in many other places across the country. We don't need to go into specifics; we've all seen it; we all know what's happening."
Read: the City Council’s vote wasn’t really about supporting police officers at all. It was about “sending a message” that Greenwood Village is “different” from those “other places.” What is happening in those other places, including throughout Colorado, that the council thinks Greenwood Village is so different from?
We have indeed all seen what’s happening in those places. We’ve seen abundantly peaceful, primarily Black-led protests; we’ve seen people from every walk of life standing up to make clear that Black lives matter; we’ve seen policy makers display respect toward the public outcry by listening and, often, acting to address racist policies and reduce racially-motivated police brutality. That’s what’s happening in those places.
What then, we have to ask, is happening in Greenwood Village? According to Mr. Bullock and the seven other affirmative votes for Resolution 40-20, it’s something different, and they’re right.
What’s happening here is dump trucks parked in front of City Hall so protesters who gathered days after the vote had nowhere to park. I was there.
What’s happening here is digging in even after Black leaders and their allies point out the unmistakable message the City Council delivered to them with this resolution.
What’s happening here is council members raising offensive tropes about “someone breaking into your home in the middle of the night,” as Mr. Bullock did in his column in The Villager, to stoke racial fears.
What’s happening here is an assumption by the City Council that Greenwood Village residents prefer loopholes and legal technicalities over clear, unequivocal support for and protection of Black lives.
What’s happening here is the City Council clearly doesn’t think very highly of Greenwood Village residents. They are grievously out of touch with our deepest values.
There’s no mystery or complexity about what to do next. The City Council must rescind this offensive, racist resolution immediately. In doing so, they must send a new message that the people of Greenwood Village believe in safety, equity, and opportunity for Black people and other communities of color.
Silence is complicity. Resolution 40-20 is far worse than that, though; it’s a direct, cowardly recapitulation of the racist policies and ideas that have persisted in this country for 400 years and, clearly, to this very day.
Billy Wynne is a health policy consultant who lives in Greenwood Village.