Standing tall 

NAACP president says bombing doesn't define city

A few days after being bombed, the local office of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People remains under siege — by the media.

Over the course of a 30-minute interview Friday, Chapter President Henry Allen's phone never lets up, and reporters, including some from USA Today, crowd the front room of the modest building at 603 S. El Paso St.

Allen says he's not used to all the attention, and doesn't relish it, but he's trying to keep up. After offering a pack of Sugar Babies from the bowl on his desk, he dutifully dons his long black wool coat and matching hat and trudges along the icy path to the back of the building, crouching over a scorched area.

It's scary, he says, to think of how much worse this might have been. But he says he hopes the national media realize that this bombing doesn't represent the views of the city as a whole.

"I am not going to allow anyone to capitalize on this incident to make this [look like] a bad place to live," he says. "Not going to happen. I live here. I've worked here for years. This is a great city."

The blackened area is all the remaining evidence of a bomb that went off Jan. 6, shaking items from the walls in the NAACP offices and the barber shop that shares the building. It wasn't clear as of press time who planted the bomb, which didn't fully detonate. Nor is it clear what the aim was.

The bomb was actually placed closest to the barber shop, but Allen, a former law enforcement officer, notes that doesn't mean much. The area in which it was set is the only outer wall that isn't fully exposed to public view.

It also seems fishy that the day it was set was the first day back from a holiday break for the NAACP's all-volunteer staff. Allen says the date of their return was noted both on their voicemail and website.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, working with local law enforcement, is continuing to investigate. It's named a person of interest: "a Caucasian male; approximately 40 years of age and balding; driving a 2000 or older model dirty, white pick-up truck with paneling, a dark colored bed liner, open tailgate and a missing or covered license plate." A sketch has been released, and a $10,000 reward offered for information leading to an arrest. (To see the sketch go to goo.gl/JdrSZX; to report a tip, call 303/435-7787.) Thomas Ravenelle, FBI special agent in charge of the Denver Field Office, says the man was seen carrying something behind the building and returning empty-handed.

Ravenelle says the bomb was "not sophisticated," and he doubts it would have done much more damage had it fully detonated. However, he says, the FBI will have to do tests to know for sure what it was capable of.

Allen says he's also alerted the FBI to a possible suspect, a man who sent him "concerning" text messages after being angered that the NAACP hasn't intervened in a disagreement he's having with local government. The FBI says it's following that lead.

Other than that, Allen says he can only guess — assuming the attack was even aimed at the NAACP — that it might be connected to ongoing unrest over the shootings of black men and boys by police officers nationally. Allen notes that he attended last year's funeral of Michael Brown, the black teenager shot by a police officer in Missouri. When a grand jury failed to indict the police officer, Allen organized a meeting here, at Emmanuel Missionary Baptist Church, that included prayers for Brown's family, law enforcement and the city of Ferguson.

Whatever the attackers' motivations, Allen says he believes this is an "isolated incident." Still, he says that some NAACP members have said they're afraid to come to the office, or to send their children to the chapter's youth group. He says he understands, but that police have assured him the place is secure.

"We're going to make sure everybody's safe in the building," he says. "We're not going to let that deter us and ... run around the city trying to find a place to meet because we fear that somebody is going to continue to harm us."

Allen says he's been overwhelmed by support from the outside community since the bombings. Many have brought food, called or stopped by. Politicians from Mayor Steve Bach to U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet have expressed their support. Allen notes that many of the people who have reached out are white. He's not surprised — in fact, he believes the region has lately made huge strides to be more inclusive.

Of course, it's possible that not everyone agrees with Allen's take on the situation. On the outside walkway of the office, Leroy Howard, a 20-plus-year member of the NAACP who is retired from the Air Force, is making his way out, Styrofoam coffee cup in hand. Speaking a bit reluctantly, he says the bombing was "upsetting." Asked if he thinks the city has a problem with racism, Howard, who is black, thinks for a second.

"Yes and no," he says. "It all depends. I hear a lot about it but I haven't personally experienced it."

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