"My family and I have been getting harassed by police officers since I can remember," Denver resident Paul Lopez told Denver police chief Gerry Whitman during a March 10 meeting.
It was one of the few moments of passion in what was a restrained gathering at police headquarters between department brass and One Nation Enlightened, the local youth-organizing group that has been conducting an ongoing campaign against racial profiling by city law enforcement. The group was seeking Whitman's endorsement of an educational flier it had drafted, advising citizens of their rights under a 2001 anti-racial profiling statute; the regulation requires police officers statewide to provide a business card to any citizen they detain in a traffic stop but don't cite or arrest. O.N.E accuses many Denver cops of not following the mandate and has established the number 303-825-7676 -- which is listed on the flier -- as a hotline for complaints ("Catch and Release," September 16, 2004).
"Chief Whitman kept saying that racial profiling isn't happening because he hasn't gotten any complaints," O.N.E organizer Albert Melchor said after the meeting. "We know that's not the case. People tell us they see it every day, in the schools, in our neighborhoods, sometimes coming right into their homes."
It's just that, as Lopez told Whitman, citizens often won't file complaints about offending cops because badge numbers are difficult to remember and the police department seems like an unapproachable institution. "All the community sees is a blue line," he said.
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And that blue line wasn't budging on March 10: About the only thing that came out of the meeting was a commitment to hold another meeting. So on Tuesday, April 5, the groups met again, this time in a more intimate and more productive gathering, says O.N.E. executive director Soyun Park. The two sides managed to draft a joint flier that explains both the state law and Denver Police Department policy with regard to the business-card requirement. It also lists both the O.N.E. hotline number and a DPD complaint line (720-913-6665) that citizens can call.
Now that the fliers have the stamp of approval of the boys in blue, O.N.E. will take them to Mayor John Hickenlooper and the Denver City Council and ask that they be printed and posted in every public building in the city. The group is also expanding its campaign into Boulder County, since the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center has found evidence of racial profiling in Longmont, Lafayette and Louisville, three areas with significant Latino and Asian populations. In addition, the group would like to implement its collaborative model in Colorado's eleven biggest counties.
"Everyone's going to know that racial profiling is illegal," says O.N.E. youth organizer Joshua Garcia. "I mean, the cops are the ones out there harassing us, but we're the ones who have to follow their process to hold them accountable."