March and Rally Follow Racial Profiling Incident in Boulder

Updated March 18, 2019

The Boulder City Council will hold a special community meeting March 18, at 6pm, to address concerns about police conduct and racial equity. The meeting is in response to officers confronting a black man who was picking up trash where he lives. 600 Community members marched about a week ago demanding a civilian oversight board and other reforms.

More than 600 people joined a rally and march in Boulder recently to demand justice after a local incident occurred that many feel was “racial profiling” by Boulder police. As KGNU reports, the protest was called after a Boulder police officer pulled a gun while demanding proof that an African American man had the legal right to be in his own front yard.

 

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Stories of racial profiling are common across the U.S. – stories that include law enforcement officers randomly stopping people of color for questioning – lacking any evidence they have committed a crime. Those stories include black Americans barbecuing at a public park, swimming at a local pool, or falling asleep in a public room at their college dormitory. Ten days ago it happened to Zayd Atkinson, an African American yoga student at Boulder’s Naropa University.

“I’ve been here since the beginning of fall, but I was familiar with the area, so I wasn’t surprised, I was surprised when he pulled out his gun,” said Atkinson.

The gun was pulled by a Boulder police officer who stopped his vehicle to question Atkinson, who was using a trash grabber to pickup garbage from his lawn near Folsom and Arapahoe. He said he feared for his life.

“There was a moment, especially when he pulled out the pistol,” said Atkinson. “I thought he was going to shoot me, I wasn’t expecting that. I had my headphones in and he came out of my blind side, and then I realized he was an officer of the law and I wanted to respect that, but he wanted to detain me and that’s when I walked away and continued doing what I was doing and things escalated.”

The escalation meant arrival of several more officers – before they concluded Atkinson was not a threat.  Alex Landau, co-founder of the Denver Justice Project was not so lucky.  He was beaten by Denver police during a traffic stop in 2009, and eventually awarded $800,000 in a settlement. Landau thinks the Boulder Police Department needs to do a better job training its officers.

“The department has not adequately provided cultural proficiency training on how to handle interactions with people of color,” said Landau.

Landau was glad to see so many protestors at yesterday’s event, which included a march from Naropa University on Arapahoe Avenue, to the Boulder Police Department on 33rd Street.

“It’s very refreshing for me as long-time activist, a black man, and survivor of police violence to see so many people who are fed up with the same things I am,” said Landau.

Nami Thompson with the Colorado Public Health Association helped organize the march. She was glad that a bystander captured video of the encounter between police and Atkinson but says more needs to be done. She urged attendees to tell city officials and the police chief they need to remove rifles from all police cars and allow people to submit anonymous complaints to the department.

“I think this has been a culture in which people have been marginalized,” said Thompson. “People are excluded from community unless they fit a certain model.”

Thompson also called for a civilian oversight board that would work to prevent and mitigate conflicts with the police. Union leader Geof Cahoon is on the same page. Cahoon is president of the local chapter of the AFL-CIO.

“It raises the idea of having a police monitor in Boulder similar to Denver’s,” said Cahoon. “In fact, I’ve been in touch with the Denver monitor’s office to learn more about their model to see if it might be reasonable for Boulder.”

Meanwhile Atkinson says he’s still shaken by the incident.

“I still have a lot of trauma and anxiety and haven’t been able to keep up with my studies.”

The officer involved in the incident is on administrative leave, and the police department expects to issue a report in 60-to-90 days. The Boulder City Council announced a special meeting for next Monday, March 18th at 6 p.m. calling it a community conversation about racism, community values and what must be done to improve racial equity for all members of Boulder.

 

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