Catch and Release

One Nation Enlightened wants just one thing from Denver cops: their business cards.

It happens so frequently that Ray often carries around documents that prove he is not wanted for any crime, which he jokingly refers to as his "slave papers." "The police usually make some bogus excuse up just so they can take people's [driver's] licenses to check for warrants or search the vehicle," he says.

"Basically, you have to have, like, a mid-range car -- we call them 'low-key' cars," he adds. "Because if you've got something too fancy, you're getting pulled over; you've got something too raggedy, you're for sure getting pulled over! You got to have something right in the middle -- a Taurus or something like that."

But what about during the stop?

One Nation Enlightened members Chris Orji (from 
left), Amia Gibson, Troy Ray, Junior Padilla, Edgar 
Acosta, Danielle Diggins, Joshua Garcia and (front) 
Mike Walker.
James Glader
One Nation Enlightened members Chris Orji (from left), Amia Gibson, Troy Ray, Junior Padilla, Edgar Acosta, Danielle Diggins, Joshua Garcia and (front) Mike Walker.
Call O.N.E. when the police have come for you.
Call O.N.E. when the police have come for you.

"Code 4 is 'no warrants'; they have to let you go," Ray says, sage-like in his familiarity with police walkie-talkie language. "You hear a Code 5, that means that someone has a warrant. You hear a Code 6, that means someone's armed and dangerous."

"Or if two cars show up," seventeen-year-old organizer Josh Garcia offers across the table.

"Yeah if you see two cop cars, that means you better start sweatin' -- somebody's going to jail, for sure. But I've been let go when there's been more then two cars, too," Ray adds.

"Caroletta had, like, four cop cars and they let her go," Park jumps in. "Little Caroletta! They had their guns drawn and everything."

"That's ridiculous," says Troy.

Senator Peter Groff, who was the main sponsor of HB 1114 while still a representative, is skeptical about whether his bill has put the kibosh on racial profiling in Denver. "You know, that's the $64,000 question. I don't know," he says. "What I get are stories -- so it's anecdotal evidence -- the fact that police are not following the law. But when you look at the numbers, you can see that police are stopping predominantly Hispanics and African-Americans at a much higher rate then anyone else."

Those numbers come from DPD's Citizen Contact Database, which was also created by HB 1114. Between 2001 and January 2004, Denver cops filled out questionnaires for officer-initiated citizen contacts, both traffic and pedestrian, in an attempt to collect data that would identify the officers' perceived race of the person they were stopping, the reason for the stop, the duration of the stop and whether or not that person was given a ticket. In March the information was compiled and released in a second extensive annual report.

"I don't think the data disproves [racial profiling] claims or proves them," says the report's author, Deborah Thomas of the University of Colorado at Denver. "This is just the big overarching policing report," Thomas says. "It doesn't mean that there aren't individual officers or individual experiences that community members are having."

Certain trends in the data were disconcerting, however. In a presentation to the Public Safety Review Commission, O.N.E. pointed out that the highest percentage of white drivers were stopped for less than five minutes, while Blacks and Latinos were more often stopped for ten to nineteen minutes. And while whites most often received a citation (76 percent), Blacks, Latinos and American Indians were let go for no crime around 50 percent of the time. Whites were stopped more often for moving violations like speeding, whereas Blacks and Latinos were stopped at a higher percentage for equipment violations, such as broken taillights, and were more likely than whites to be given a field interview and searched. However, individual officers were not identified in the report, which is why the business cards are so important.

"As soon as we start racking up administrative complaints against certain officers, then we can isolate them," Park says. "We also want to know if it's the same ones because we know that it's a small percentage of [the force] that do, like, 80 percent of the stuff that happens to Mike or some of the other youth that we work with."

"The data shows that certain individuals were stopped more," says Denver police sergeant Mike Anderson. "I think that one of the things that we as a police department have to do is make sure we're doing the right thing all the time, regardless of who our citizens are."

The Biased Policing Task Force, which comprises community members and police officers, is a step in the right direction. Currently the partnership is working on updating officer training curriculum on how to better "communicate with the different cultures." And after Chief of Police Gerry Whitman met with O.N.E. in early August, he issued a training bulletin, reminding his department that giving out business cards is required by law.

O.N.E. has been hitting the streets, reminding residents of the same thing. With a roll of tape around his wrist, Ray shares the sidewalk with Walker, both of them occasionally giving the "What's up?" to familiar faces across Welton Street near the Five Points intersection. Down the street, Edgar Acosta is standing just inside a pale stucco doorway speaking in Spanish to a group of men seated within. The shirtless one with dark hair and sad eyes tells Acosta about the last time he was stopped by police. The 24-year-old O.N.E. organizer nods and gestures to the fluorescent green poster he is holding that reads "Stop Racial Profiling Now."

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