Boulder, We Have a Problem

This article, a guest post by Susan Pfretzschner from our own Communications Committee, was published online at the Colorado Independent on April 11, 2019.

Photo of Sammie Lawrence IV by Susan Pfretzschner

Sammie Lawrence IV is a soft-spoken young man with a head of curls and a heart for justice. He saw some friends having a picnic in Boulder on Friday and became alarmed when police came by to ticket them for littering.

It looks to us that, in a city that’s purportedly a bastion of inclusion and social tolerance, the picnickers were targeted because they’re homeless and Sammie because he’s black.

Sammie video recorded the police interference with his phone, as is his First Amendment right. (To see the video, click here and click on “videos” in the column on the left).The officers didn’t like his camera pointed at them. They shouted “drop your weapon,” referring to the walking stick he uses to keep his balance. He told them that he’s disabled and needs the stick as a walking aid.

No matter, an officer jumped on Sammie and tackled him to the ground (as you can see at 2:40 seconds on the video). Police arrested him suspicion of obstructing a peace officer and resisting arrest.

This type of abuse of force isn’t an anomaly in Boulder. A month ago, police here overreacted to a young black college student who was on his own lawn cleaning up trash with a stick. Guns drawn, they told him to “drop his weapon.”

Police in Boulder, as well as nationwide, need to stop calling for young black men to drop their weapons no matter what they are holding in their hands. A cell phone is not a weapon, nor are keys, or a tool for picking up trash, or a properly used walking stick.

And the people of Boulder need to wake up to the fact that our city isn’t, in practice, nearly as tolerant as it’s assumed – or hopes – to be.

Last Tuesday, the Boulder City Council and Jane Brautigam, Boulder’s city manager, agreed to work with the Boulder County NAACP to create a police oversight board to keep excessive force cases in check and the Boulder Police Department accountable. It was only three days later, while leaving a meeting about creating that board, that Sammie came face to face with the kind of systemic racism and amped-up overuse of power that needs to watchdogged and held to account.

Sammie is a member of the Boulder County NAACP. We stand in solidarity with him, and with the victim in the March incident, as well as the countless other people of color, disabled people and homeless people who are mistreated by our police.

The formation of a police oversight board for the city of Boulder Police Department needs to be done with care, but also needs to be done quickly.

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