Three years ago, Alex Landau became a symbol of sorts for racial inequality and police brutality in Denver. Three years ago, Denver police officers pulled Landau over for an alleged illegal left turn, and it was not long after that they beat him bloody. But that was three years ago, and Landau has changed as a person and adapted as a victim.
"I have absolutely no fear of police whatsoever," he says. "That's what it has come down to." He only wishes more had changed inside the police department.
In the following years, the now 22-year-old Landau's story has earned a financial conclusion but no emotional or legal closure, he says. Of the $1.34 million the city spent on police brutality settlements this year -- the first year to go over $1 million since 2004 -- Landau's personal settlement cost $795,000. But when Westword spoke to Landau on Friday, the city had yet to permanently remove Randy Murr and Tiffany Middleton, two of the officers involved in Landau's case. Later that day, the third officer, Ricky Nixon, was reinstated with back pay after being involved in both Landau's case and the Denver Diner incident.
"It's really frustrating, honestly," says Landau, who is pushing for the Denver Police Department's disciplinary matrix to be reformatted. "Officers still remain under investigation with no punishment in my case. I've spoken to the police chief's administration and the mayor's administration, and everyone seems concerned, but nothing has changed. I don't know if the administration needs to be reworked or the discipline standard needs to be changed, or if we just haven't gotten enough attention."
For Landau to worry that his story hasn't received enough attention is significant. Landau made the cover of Westword in early 2011, and he has consistently used his own example as evidence in a struggle to influence the department to prevent others. Both the Denver Diner incident and the story of Michael DeHerrera have also upped public attention the issue in recent years, and Landau recently joined the cause on the grassroots level.
"It's sad, and I feel bad for the families that have to go through these things," Landau says. "I feel like, 'How many people does it take? How many more people will be killed or beaten? How many more settlements?'"
In October, while at a community meeting for the Colorado ACLU, a friend recommended that Landau get in touch with the Colorado Progressive Coalition's racial justice program, where he now serves as a volunteer a couple blocks from where he lives. On Friday, he and the CPC announced the relaunch of the group's racial profiling hotline, through which two dozen volunteers will take shifts manning a cell phone community members can call to report and get help with their own situations. Two Saturdays ago, Landau underwent training with the other volunteers on how to respond to calls.
On Monday, Landau and the CPC marched in the MLK Day Marade, where they passed by the area where Landau was assaulted in January 2009. Together, Landau and the coalition are renewing calls to have all three officers arrested, though the news of Nixon's reinstatement has put an early damper on their battle.
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"It's not just about it not happening to me again," he says. "It puts the message out there that when we discipline our officers faster and heavier, it might actually discourage other officers from acting. We have the spirit of old civil rights movements in the air. It's a great time for civil rights."
In the time between now and his assault, Landau has explored the incident's effect on his life with no shortage of poems and free verses that tackle the topic. One of the issues he has had to deal with is his role as a public face for the issue in Denver, a role he is happy to uphold.
"I didn't really intend for that to be the case, but when I talk to people about what happened, it naturally just fuels a rage and frustration," Landau says. "The only thing I know how to do with that energy is just reconstruct it and put it back in the system. I don't like going out and saying, 'Watch out, you might get beat down.' But I do like telling people about their civil rights. I'm going to fight for them, and we're going to fight together."
More from our Colorado Crimes archive: "Police brutality: Cop reinstated before city has completed Alex Landau inquiry."