An internal affairs investigation has been launched and community members are demanding answers after viral video showed police officers confronting a college student as he picked up trash in front of his own home. At the Boulder City Council meeting Tuesday night, residents held trash grabbers high and made them click and clack in protest as Boulder Police Department Chief Greg Testa faced council members in the Colorado city in an attempt to justify the overly aggressive response by eight of his officers.
Residents were rallying in response to the latest #LivingWhileBlack incident to make headlines: a Friday morning incident where a BPD officer confronted the unnamed man as he sat in the front yard of a home he shares with others.
According to a release, a Boulder police officer observed a man sitting in a partially enclosed patio area behind a “private property” sign in the 2300 block of Arapahoe Avenue at 8:30 a.m. Friday and asked if the man was allowed to be there.
The man told the officer he lived and worked in the building, and gave the officer his school identification card, but the officer detained the man to investigate further.
The officer then made a request over the radio for additional assistance to respond, saying the man was uncooperative and unwilling to put down a blunt object. Several other officers, including a supervisor, responded.
Police found the object the man was holding is a device used to pick up trash, and officers left the area.
The 16-minute video of the incident was recorded from inside the house, with quite a bit of color commentary from the also-unnamed roommate behind the camera; the recording appears to begin after the initial officer called for backup. The cop, who is still holding the student’s ID, keeps his hand on his holstered gun while the Naropa University student carries the trash grabber and a white five-gallon bucket.
The man retreats toward the house while more officers, sirens blaring, swarm the sleepy suburban-looking block, with one even toting around a shotgun that is later revealed to be a “non-lethal” weapon.
At one point, the man behind the camera counts out how many officers he sees, and stops at eight; the student repeatedly expresses frustration about the waste of resources. Ultimately, an unseen employee of the university confirms that the student was cleaning the yard as part of his work-study obligations. He tells the student that he’s been profiled, and ultimately de-escalates the situation by promising him that their fight is just beginning.
Only then do the officers begin retreating, and the initial instigator of the incident finally gives the student his ID back, but not without a lengthy lecture beforehand.
The full video can be watched below. Please note that there are many f-bombs, and the student holding the camera does lob a homophobic slur at the cops.
According to coverage of the city council meeting from the Boulder-area newspaper the Daily Camera, Chief Testa did concede that the student was not a culprit, but he also made a tone-deaf attempt to minimize the completely unnecessary flaunting of weapons by his officers.
Testa said the man police confronted did nothing wrong or unlawful. He also confirmed that one officer drew his gun, though he said the officer pointed it at the ground. Based on preliminary information, other officers also wielded a less-lethal shotgun and a shield, he said.
Just a shotgun, no big deal.
Naropa University President Charles Lief spoke on behalf of the student, who he said has expressed no desire to become a public symbol of the pervasive racial bias in Boulder. Lief made it clear that racism is not a new problem, and offered university resources to the city in an attempt to help police and other employees work on this whole racism thing.
Council members were receptive to that and said there needed to be discussion about racism in the community. City Manager Jane Brautigam said the city is taking a deep dive right now in understanding structural racism.
How could Boulder have made it to 2019 without ever learning about racism before? Well, it’s a pretty easy thing to do in an 88 percent white city that self-reports an African-American population of just 1.1 percent. In a three-part series published in July 2018, the Daily Camera explored the city’s decades-long stall on racial progress.
“My gut feeling is that no committee or task force will have much effect on everyday racial intolerance in Boulder,” wrote Gregory Todd in the Daily Camera’s Sunday edition on Oct. 28, 1990. “Not on the convenience store clerk who bristles every time a black walks into the store late at night. Not on the indescribable feeling when someone stares at you like a curio. Not on the person who doesn’t tip a black waiter as much as a white waiter.
“Organizations and committees cannot change what’s in people’s hearts.”
People of color in this town say they have varying degrees of faith as to whether or not Boulder can change. In lieu of that, they’d take a little more honesty about the extent of the problem here.
“Boulder has to be willing to change their story,” Rev. Pedro Silva said. “They either have to be willing to say, ‘We’re a community that thought we’re more progressive than we are, but we’re working on it.’ Or they have to keep telling themselves they’re something they have not yet achieved.”
To move a community will take the commitment of many individuals, the changing of many minds and hearts.
Clearly, city police have a long way to go.
An internal affairs investigation into the incident was announced Monday, and could take as long as 90 days; the officer who started the whole mess, by deciding a black student had no right to be in his own yard, has been placed on administrative leave in the meantime.