Laurie Fitzgerald tried to tell her grandson about Trayvon Martin, about his hoodie, about his family, but it's hard. So she taught him the basics. When asked why he's carrrying a poster of the seventeen-year-old Florida student's face, four-year-old Royce Edwards answers only, "Because Trayvon is dead and his daddy is sad." As he holds Martin's photo next to his own face, the two are wearing matching hoodies.
Yesterday, Royce joined an estimated 1,500 people to march on behalf of Martin through downtown Denver. The rally, hosted by the Colorado Progressive Coalition, is the third of three large-scale events targeted against police brutality in the past three days. As supporters carried signs and zipped up symbolic hoodies in eighty-degree weather, they began and ended the two-hour event with shouts of, "I am Trayvon Martin!"
In preparation for the event, CPC officials urged community members to treat it as a family friendly affair, which placed Edwards in good but tiny company. "It's hard to explain all of this to him, but it's important that he knows about the world he lives in," said Fitzgerald, reaching down to zip up her grandson's hoodie. "It's hard to tell him that because his dad is black and his mom is not and he comes from two backgrounds, there are people who will want to hurt him. How do you explain hatred?"
Yesterday's march comes as the latest push in the coalition's efforts to persuade the Department of Justice to investigate the Denver Police Department. As vendors sold shirts commemorating Martin, Denver natives well-known for their own stories took turns speaking about their run-ins with local police. Alexander Landau, beaten in a 2009 police incident, joined the march as a local symbol of sorts alongside Ana Ortega, Miriam Pena and members of Michael DeHerrera's family. As the march circled the Van Cise-Simonet Detention Center, Marvin Booker's name was checked as well.
Hundreds of marchers streamed downtown, meeting at the Colorado Progressive Coalition before walking to the Denver Diner, the site of a public 2009 brutality allegation, followed by the downtown jail and then the State Capitol building. Zipped into a black hoodie in solidarity with Martin, Landau spoke to Westword about a word he's used repeatedly on video and off in the CPC's efforts to bring federal investigators to Denver police: accountability.
Landau sympathized with Martin's friends, family and the girlfriend on the phone with him before following the chain of events to Denver. "This just emphasizes that there is no systematic control, no transparency, no accountability," Landau said. In his case, Ricky Nixon, among the officers who pulled him over on suspicion of an illegal left turn and then assaulted him, has since been reinstated. Although the incident ended with a $795,000 settlement in Landau's favor, its greatest effect has been turning the college student into a symbol. "Am I supposed to take the money and think this system is all okay now? They want to make the new Manager of Safety out to be this big step, the new police chief out to be this big step, but the biggest step would be to prosecute these officers."
In the wake of that reinstatement and similar results in the 2009 Denver Diner incident, in which officers (including Nixon) may rejoin the force while the city appeals their ability to do so, the CPC has launched a call for federal input and investigation. Petitions circulating through the crowd yesterday gathered signatures asking the Department of Justice to intervene.
In his internship with the CPC, which focuses on racial justice, Landau is developing a project to map Denver's high-risk areas for race crimes and then pursue racial awareness training in those areas. At the CPC, he works intake for the organization's racial justice hotline, pointing friends who have experienced problems to resources with which to address them.
"This is the proof," Landau said, surveying the march with his right hand. "I don't know how anyone could continue to pretend that brutality and hate crimes are not an issue in our culture on a regular basis." He pointed again, this time to the courthouse downtown. "This is the infrastructure, and if we take it down, that's a start."
Landau sighs. At the MLK Marade, a sixteen-year-old boy approached Landau to tell him he had watched his case from the beginning, from its 2009 inception. Landau was flattered, he said, but wishes he had more results to give the teen.
"You have to remember that we must eliminate racial profiling in our own lives before we can revolutionize the system," Landau said. "Get rid of that humor and those stereotypes and that urge to think of entire groups as the same. Then we can all start together."
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