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Demand for change places spotlight on Fort Collins Police Services

Since the first ship arrived in North America housing slaves in 1619, Black people have been fighting for their basic human rights, and they are still fighting ⁠— about four centuries later. 

Our walking towards change and justice doesn’t end here. For a lot of people this is a beginning step, or even a middle step, in the pathway towards justice, but we don’t want people to stop.” -Melissa Lozano Davis, walk of solidarity co-organizer

Residents of Fort Collins are no exception. Protests have been organized in the wake of the recent killing of Minneapolis resident George Floyd. The COVID-19 outbreak has caused many to lose their jobs or work with reduced hours, giving them time to raise their voices. 

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Protester and 12-year Fort Collins resident who prefers to go by Queen said that it is naive to believe that systemic racism cannot exist in your own backyard.  

“We need to make sure we get the people in office,” Queen said. “We need to let them know that Black and brown lives matter. We fucking matter, stop fucking killing us.” 

It has been 17 days since Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, according to court documents from the state of Minnesota. In that time, Floyd was unresponsive for two minutes and 53 seconds while three other officers stood by watching. 

“Police are trained that this type of restraint with a subject in a prone position is inherently dangerous,” the document read.

In Fort Collins, the police are working to “engage and create genuine connections” with community members as an effective way to build cultural understanding and implicit bias awareness, according to Fort Collins Police Chief Jeff Swoboda.

“Our training, accountability systems, culture and community engagement efforts support (the fight against racial inequality),” Swoboda said. “We will continue to invite meaningful discussions internally and externally with our colleagues and community members of color to better understand local barriers, fears, perceptions and opportunities for improvement.”

Swoboda addressed the killing of Floyd in two statements released by Fort Collins Police Services, providing responses to questions that have been asked related to hiring, training, accountability and trust. “Every person deserves to feel safe when encountering law enforcement,” he added.  

Fort Collins has less police officers per 100,000 people compared to other communities, according to Fort Collins Mayor Wade Troxell. Other community-oriented programs have been introduced to reduce police involvement with cases surrounding mental health and drug addiction. 

“I think George Floyd’s needless death is inexcusable, being at the hands of those who are there to serve and protect. I think it provides a chance for us all to stop and pause and to examine, individually, each of us, the deep-rooted aspects of racism in this country and take this time to look at that more fundamentally.” -Fort Collins Mayor Wade Troxell

There is no funding that goes directly towards the police department, Troxell said. The City does not “budget-fund” departments, but rather the funds go toward creating safe, livable neighborhoods that enable a larger community connection. 

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“Fort Collins has been very progressive in dealing with and assessing how we provide … a safe, livable community in the broadest sense of the word for everyone,” Troxell said. “We’re building some mechanisms that can address (that) in a friendly, forward-thinking … way.”

FCPS’ police transparency page details what goes into anti-bias training, reviews de-escalation and use of force, highlights ethics and more.

According to the website page, an emphasis is placed on trust and transparency to sustain a healthy relationship with the Fort Collins community. 

When the community speaks up, especially in such a powerful, peaceful manner as they have during the protests, it is the job of officers to listen and reflect, Swoboda said. 

“If there’s not a reasonable threat to your life, then you shouldn’t be afraid,” Amber Jensen, a protester, said. “In all honesty, you’ve been trained — there’s other methods to subdue somebody beyond using a weapon. If they don’t see a physical weapon, they should not be able to pull a weapon. They should not be able to put their full body weight on another human being.” 

Pastor and protester David A. Williams Jr. said he is tired of having to come to the protests and rallies and is tired of the killings. 

“We are not only fighting COVID-19, we are fighting other things, and we gotta stay together,” Williams Jr. said. “It is a right from God that all of us were created equal, that all of us have the same mandates.”

Jamir Constance marches for his father, his brother and cousins and for something bigger than the recent deaths.  

“I look like the people who are getting killed every day for walking down the street, jogging or going to the store,” Constance said. “We’re fighting for the whole community, a whole race of people, someone that I call my people. It’s important to be here today — it shows true solidarity in a time of crisis. If you look at history, only good has come from protesting, riots and however you feel about the subject that’s necessary for things to change.” 

Walk of solidarity co-organizer Melissa Lozano Davis explained that the walk represents the movement toward “change and justice.” The walk took place on May 31 at City Park to show support for Floyd’s family.  

“Our walking towards change and justice doesn’t end here,” Lozano Davis said. “For a lot of people this is a beginning step, or even a middle step, in the pathway towards justice, but we don’t want people to stop.”

We need to make sure we get the people in office. We need to let them know that Black and brown lives matter. We fucking matter, stop fucking killing us.” -Queen, Fort Collins resident and protester

Jamar Clark, Philando Castile, Sean Reed, Breonna Taylor and more have all died at the hands of police. 

In a recent statement, the Colorado State University Office of the Vice President for Diversity explained that “each individual’s life and experience is distinct, but every person is connected by overarching themes of anti-Blackness, police brutality and intersections of gender within a society that devalues the lives and humanity of Black people.”

“I think George Floyd’s needless death is inexcusable, being at the hands of those who are there to serve and protect,” Troxell said. “I think it provides a chance for us all to stop and pause and to examine, individually, each of us, the deep-rooted aspects of racism in this country and take this time to look at that more fundamentally.” 

Public Information Officer Kristina Shaw of Mental Health Partners, a non-profit organization that provides immediate access to mental health and substance use care, said that the physical, mental and emotional well-being of minority communities, specifically Black communities, are at risk when systemic injustices related to racism happen. 

“Everybody processes trauma or their experiences in different ways,” Shaw said. “So we can’t say that the protests are 100% helping everybody, but to have mental well-being, you want to be able to speak to your personal experiences and your lived experiences.”

The Black community, while given rights, have not been given a voice, Jensen said.

“We’ve seen it in civil rights and we’ve seen it every day since then,” Jensen said. “The Black community is just not listened to. They’ve peacefully protested, they’ve taken every attempt they can (and) they don’t have representatives that represent their community in Congress.” 

Troxell said City Council has made race, inclusion and equity a priority through efforts like the social sustainability strategic plan while he has been mayor.

“From a point of view from a level of humanity, we all have to come together and work together to rectify these explicit and implicit kinds of biases,” Troxell said. “It really starts at the top where we examine ourselves and our systems.”

Institutionalized and individual racism has been addressed by CSU’s Race, Bias and Equity Initiative, which is working to place an emphasis on systemic efforts that impact permanent change on campus. 

“When we say CSU is a place where all are welcomed, valued and affirmed, that comes with a responsibility to be allies, advocates and accomplices,” read the Office of the Vice President for Diversity’s statement. “To see these events and face them. To name them. To choose to not turn away or ignore the painful parts of our reality.” 

President Joyce McConnell also released a statement stating she is “heartbroken” and that the community stands united in anguish and anger. 

“As president of Colorado State, I affirm that it is not enough to commit to being a University and a community where hate and bias and racism are not tolerated,” read the statement. “We are committed to being anti-hate, anti-bias and anti-racist.”

Even as the protests die down, it is the hope that the fight for change remains at the forefront of everyone’s minds, Jensen said. Protesting is not enough, and people need to be reaching out to state representatives, senators and mayors, she said.

“Stand up for what’s right and expect it,” Constance said. “We’ve been taught from a young age (to) treat people how you want to be treated, and that should be driven across all race, gender, sex preference, anything. Black lives matter. Keep protesting. Keep fighting.” 

Editor’s Note: A previous version of the this article and the version of this article on Issuu included David McAtee’s name in a list of people who died “at the hands of police.” His name has been removed from the list to align with the most recent information about his death. Additionally, a previous version of this article listed Queen’s full name and has been updated to reflect her preferred name.

Laura Studley can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @laurastudley_.

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