Music promoter Ru Johnson won’t watch the video of George Floyd being murdered.
“Like everyone else in America with a heart, I was really impacted by the killing of George Floyd in broad daylight by the Minneapolis police,” she says. “It wasn’t just that he was killed and the fashion in which he was killed. It was on top of everything else everyone has been experiencing.”
She points to the pandemic, the president signaling that he’s creating a dictatorship, decades of racist police violence. “Police as an entity are designed to be violent and murderous,” she says. “Yet these are the people who serve and protect.”
So, like many, in late May Johnson found herself tired and furious at how unfair it all was.
“I was hurt and in tears and feeling helpless and wallowing in the rage that I felt,” she says. “I allowed myself that, because it is enraging and exhausting and saddening. Everything is terrible. It’s all terrible.”
She took a brief retreat for her birthday and thought about how she wanted to respond.
“I decided that I was going to reach out and see if people who have like-minded values around these issues would come together with me to release recommendations based on a coalition response to the violence that we experience at the hands of police,” she says.
She drafted a Facebook post looking for people to join her efforts, and the response has been huge.
Kori Hazel, a writer and talent buyer with 303 magazine, was one of the first to answer the call. He had been in the streets at demonstrations, and while he was heartened to see thousands of people showing up night after night, he was also pained by the experience.
“You recall all these past traumas of how the police have wronged you, but it’s nice to see this support from the community for the first time,” he says of the protests. “It’s been realized by other people that aren’t you or don’t look like you.”
In part, he attributes the energy around these protests — greater than any he’s experienced at actions before in Denver — to the COVID-19 shutdown.
“I hate to say it like this, but I feel like a lot of white people had time to care with coronavirus and everything going on,” he says. “With coronavirus, not having all the distractions of work and life, people are like, ‘Oh, shit. This is actually a problem. I shouldn’t have let this go on so long.’”
So Johnson, Hazel and the other recruits called an emergency meeting for the first day of June for what they dubbed the Denver Creative Industries Alliance. Musicians, photographers, fashion designers, artists, sex workers and others showed up. They compiled a list of what they could agree were the most important issues within the movement to stop racist police violence. They decided to first approach the city with that list, and they have plans to expand their efforts to the state and federal levels.
The requests are varied: They want police to join protesters in the streets, to show up unarmed, without riot gear in the wings, and to kneel; to undergo racial sensitivity training; and to pledge to do no harm. They are asking the courts to release all protesters from jail, drop charges and forgive fines. They have ideas about reforming the Denver Office of the Independent Monitor, as well as creating a regulatory board that takes complaints and ensures that police undergo regular cultural sensitivity training, and much more.
“We got what we think is most important to do, a wide range of issues within the movement,” says Johnson. “We designed recommendations that we wanted to get to the city, and at some point a state and federal level. We want to be able to use this model on a national level for creative industries.”
More than 2,500 people signed on to a declaration of the group’s demands that they presented to Denver City Council on June 4.
“What I believe the Denver Creative Industries Alliance is really about is creating a system of structure for people who are not always a part of the massive activist organizations,” says Johnson.
She has some frustrations about who is not answering the call — particularly white artists who have appropriated black culture.
"The music industry in particular has some of its own biases that need to be addressed," she says. "When I see things like Blackout Tuesday, I’m like, listen, this is preposterous. There are so many chances the music industry has had to speak out in the community. I was upset at several folks in the EDM community who didn’t say a word until many of us pressed them. Like, listen, you can’t use Waka Flocka samples in your music and eat off our culture if you’re not going to speak up about the violence of the police."
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
But while plenty of big-name artists and powerful companies have opted not to sign on to the cause, Johnson is not about to go recruiting.
"If people have not said something until now, they’re not down with the movement," explains Johnson. "And I'm not going to give a platform to people who do not give a shit."
It’s not just this group that is taking action. The RiNo Art District has pledged $50,000 to support racial justice groups in the Five Points, Globeville, Elyria-Swansea and Cole neighborhoods. The Mile High Sound Movement, a local artist collective and label, is launching a fundraiser to support the efforts of the National Police Accountability Project and to champion the Law Enforcement Integrity and Accountability Act. And even more musicians are dropping records, songs and online concerts, hoping to raise money for the fight against police violence.
“The biggest thing is how amazing it’s been to see all these people come together from all walks of life, and all these people from different races coming together,” concludes Hazel. “It’s good to see a wide reckoning of what this country has led us to.”