Governor Jared Polis had a lot on his plate during his June 2 update on COVID-19. He expressed solidarity with those peacefully demonstrating in downtown Denver over the police-custody death of Minneapolis's George Floyd, even as he expressed concern about a potential virus spike resulting from the large gatherings — and he blasted President Donald Trump's threat to send federal troops into states that fail to meet his swaggering standards.
"I don't have any legal analysis about the president's ability to do that," Polis conceded. "I have a policy analysis that it would be a very bad thing to do. The president should not deploy U.S. military to the streets to fire on our fellow Americans. That would be more divisive and worsen the situation while dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, as well as the millions it's moved to action on social justice."
Polis acknowledged that there have been "difficult times here in Denver" over recent days, and he understands why after watching a twenty-minute-plus compilation of video showing Floyd gasping "I can't breathe," as he lost the fight for his life. Polis plainly called the act "murder," and stressed his support for charges against "the perpetrator."
Then he added: "We all know this is not an isolated incident. The reality is much larger. This is a pattern. We see it starkly." After recounting injustices suffered for decades by African-Americans and other people of color, Polis said, "We need to listen to the voices of those crying out for reform — and to those who are peacefully protesting, I want you to know I see you, I hear you, and I grieve with you. And more importantly, I want to work with you to make Colorado better and America better."
Meanwhile, he continued, "It's also sad to hear some call for a more violent crackdown against peaceful demonstrators exercising their First Amendment rights. Some are even advocating militarized action. But this is not China, this is not Tiananmen Square, and that's not leadership. That's more division we need to heal from."
In these introductory remarks, Polis didn't specifically mention Trump, but later in his talk, he made it clear that the president's assertions were at the top of his mind. He suspects that Trump's threat about troops shows that he "has become so isolated in the White House, in the ivory tower, that he doesn't understand what's going on in our streets." After lauding those who helped clean up after vandalism near the State Capitol, Polis stressed that "part of leadership is feeling and understanding the anguish and pain that so many Americans feel — Americans who believed we lived in a better America, one that had overcome many aspects of our legacy of racism stemming back to the days of slavery."
As for Trump's suggestion that governors unwilling to assert "dominance" over protesters show that they're "weak," Polis stated, "Even those who support his policies often question his careless use of words and rhetoric" — a habit that predates his tenure as president, he allowed.
Regarding the novel coronavirus, Polis shared figures from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment showing just shy of 26,000 cases and nearly 1,500 deaths of people infected with the disease; in the case of 1,200 of those fatalities, COVID-19 was determined to have been the cause of death. Case counts and hospitalizations continue to trend downward, however.
As a result, the latest extension of the safer-at-home program, dubbed "Safer at Home and in the Vast, Great Outdoors," allows for greater loosening of restrictions related to the use of public pools and playgrounds, and organized sports for children and adults involving 25 or fewer people. The latter still carries risk, Polis conceded, but because of a big increase in contact tracing — there will soon be 800 people statewide taking on this task —the potential for greater spread should be minimized, he said.
Coming soon will be new rules about houses of worship, which will likely be given the go-ahead to increase capacity for services from ten to fifty later this week — and short-term rentals have been approved, too.
Not that the danger of a rising viral curve is over. According to Polis, "One of my greatest fears in watching the events of the last weekend is that so many people gathering in one place together will increase the spread of COVID-19 in Colorado and across the nation. Health experts tell me it could lead to hundreds of new cases and untold death and suffering just as we were beginning to make progress."
With that in mind, Polis encouraged those whose consciences demand that they participate in protests wear masks and try to keep a gap of six feet between themselves and others whenever possible. Moreover, he advised demonstrators to take advantage of COVID-19 testing at the Pepsi Center; a new Denver policy sanctions testing of rally-goers. Polis suggested that such folks take advantage of this free service seven days after attending.
During questions from journalists on site and by phone, Polis addressed a range of issues, many of them protest-related. He promised to closely monitor a report about a 9News broadcaster's allegedly nasty encounter with a Colorado state trooper while trying to cover the protests; did likewise regarding the Denver Police Department's promised look into its own tactics; showered positives on responsible protest leaders; formally backed a bipartisan effort to examine the Gallagher Amendment; and pledged to look for legislative ways to further criminal-justice reforms beyond ones passed in recent sessions.
"We have a long way to go," he admitted, "but we've certainly taken a number of steps, and I'm really pleased that this will be an impetus to do even more, and more quickly, to address systemic racism in our state."