Fighting Fire With Fire

Does Alvertis Simmons need to be so angry? He thinks so.

Volatile black activist Alvertis Simmons says he's leaving his job of three years as the mayor's neighborhood-watch coordinator to wage his own fight against the myriad social problems he sees facing Denver.

"I'm looking forward to leaving the city," he says enthusiastically from his sixteenth-floor office across the street from the City and County Building. "I need to be where I'm not restricted. In the city, I'm restricted. I'm like a thoroughbred horse, ready to race."

However, Simmons's stride was slowed a few months ago when the city revoked his cellular phone after he ran up a huge bill, the latest in a series of controversies that have surrounded him during the past year. He was also criticized for his confrontational handling of local rallies in support of the Million Man March. But Simmons blasts others for inaction. He describes Denver's black middle class as "too fat," and his comments and actions have angered many.

"He's not too welcome in the community right now," says black activist Nick Walker, of Citizens Concerned About Minorities in Aurora. "He proved such an embarrassment--at least, that's the feeling I'm getting. With the Million Man March and the cell phone, his ego exceeded his capacity, and he ended up pissing off just about everyone."

Some people try to separate Simmons's actions from his raw style. "I just think we have a young brother who had a very difficult time," says John Bailey, executive director of 100 Black Men of Denver, a nonprofit organization that helps young black men. "He had a lot of energy and ideas--and like most young brothers, [he's] stubborn. But he's a good young brother."

But what exactly has Simmons done from his sixteenth-floor, $31,000-a-year post with the city? He has eleven neighborhoods in north and northeast Denver in which he is responsible for administering watch programs, but the president of a Globeville neighborhood association says there is no program in her area, and a member of another says Simmons hasn't come out for a neighborhood-watch meeting in more than a year.

"Basically, I just get them started," Simmons says. "Check up on them in six months. If there's a problem, I get back over these. I don't just go out and say, 'Here I am.' They have to pick up the phone. I'm not gonna please everybody."

Others say he has been active in their neighborhoods. Currently, Simmons is trying to organize a block party at 33rd and Fillmore to dislodge a local gang. Priscilla McConnell, a nine-year resident of the neighborhood who lives at 32nd and Fillmore, says Simmons "has been at every meeting we've asked him to come to and done his job, trying to curtail gang vandalism and chaos. He just comes through the block and asks the neighborhood what's going on." His work as an official coordinator will end, however, because Simmons says he's leaving city work "soon" for other ventures.

But at the same time Simmons confidently talks about his future, he also seems like a wounded animal--proud, worn down by criticism of his explosive personality, and always looking to fight back.

A self-described leader who's not averse to comparing himself with martyred black leaders such as Malcolm X, Simmons says he's been "singled out" by the press because of his controversial past. "Why don't they talk about how many times I've closed down crack houses?" he says. "Why don't they talk about how many times I stood out in the bitter cold so we could have a Martin Luther King parade? Why don't they talk about the kids I help in Juvenile Hall? Why in the hell do they talk about a cellular phone? It's baloney and bullshit."

But there have been articles about his good deeds, including a long, glowing profile in the Denver Post back in January. Stories have detailed the time he led protesters for fifteen weeks on a rally against drug dealers at the corner of Humboldt and 22nd last summer. Or his door-to-door efforts in Park Hill last January to help ferret out the killers of 3-year-old Casson Evans, shot in the head in his car seat.

It's the more critical coverage that gets his goat. Like Election Day last year, when Simmons, working as an aide to Mayor Wellington Webb, reportedly kicked down several campaign signs belonging to mayoral candidate Mary DeGroot and had enough tense run-ins with candidate Bob Crider and his staff that they hired an off-duty Denver cop.

It was reported that he encouraged kids to boycott George Washington High School in March and that he was at the center of a battle against the Denver Public Schools to permit a Million Man March rally at the school the following month.

Later in April, while spearheading Denver's low-turnout Million Man March, he alienated Hispanic and Native American organizations interested in participating.

And in March 1995, Westword reported that Simmons had been arrested three times since 1983. The first two times were for shoplifting (he wound up with a deferred judgment as a first-time offender) and assault (stemming from a domestic-violence incident; he pled guilty, went through court-ordered counseling and had the incident expunged from his record). The third time, he was taken into custody after an altercation with his wife, but a charge of disturbing the peace was dropped. It was the last time he spoke with Westword until until now.

Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help