De’Von Bailey shooting raises questions 


This week, I fully intended to write a piece in response to a hate crime: swastikas spray-painted on a fence near Vista Ridge High School. (Or what news reports have called “graffiti” created by “teenagers” signaling “white pride.”)

But before the ink could flow, I, and many others in the community, was thrust into unimaginable horror as I heard the news that De’Von Bailey, 19, had been shot to death by Colorado Springs Police officers on Aug. 3.

The grief didn’t ease in subsequent days, after the Gazette released surveillance footage of the incident that quickly went viral. The video shows Bailey in sweatshorts and a T-shirt running from the police. Then he falls.

It raises questions like: How much of a threat could Bailey have posed when he was lying on the ground dying, that it was necessary for officers to huddle over him and place him in handcuffs?

The anger grows as the media circulate stories with headlines like “Uncovering the criminal history of suspect killed by police” — a report that included charges that had been dismissed and others that had never been brought before a jury or judge (and now never will be). As if any of that somehow justifies how Bailey was shot.

The insult escalates as protesters gather at City Hall and march to the Police Operations Center and, while there, encounter two thugs — white brothers — who pull guns on them. The police don’t come out, guns blazing, to stop the brothers; rather they arrest them for “disorderly conduct.”
Since we’re talking about bias, let’s talk about the CSPD’s record on combating that issue. In April 2018, when Pikes Peak Community College’s Black Student Union hosted a public panel on police brutality, CSPD was visibly absent.

In June of this year, during an Undoing Racism workshop hosted by Citizens Project and Jody Alyn Consulting, a CSPD representative left early. I don’t know why the representative left — perhaps there was a good reason — but I do know she claimed the facilitators did not know our community, and that CSPD didn’t have a racial bias problem.

Just last week, in the aftermath of Bailey’s shooting, the CSPD canceled a night of community outreach. That same week it apparently held a closed-door meeting with select leaders — causing some to question whether such a gathering violated open meeting laws.

The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office is conducting a “neutral” investigation of the Bailey shooting. This is the same office that had to be ordered to stop holding immigrants illegally for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The Sheriff’s Office has also been accused of retaliation. Undersheriff Pete Carey retired as CSPD police chief less than a month prior to taking his new position — he’s now a leader in an office that’s supposed to be objectively looking at the Bailey case. That’s like asking a fox to guard the hens.

Beyond questions about the investigation into this individual case, the Bailey killing begs us once again to consider our culture of systemic racism. Colorado Springs is not immune — in fact an entire Hollywood film (BlacKkKlansman) was made last year about the depths of racism in El Paso County. I hate to say it, but it was just a matter of time before our tone-deaf approach to racial bias resulted in a tragic incident that made headlines nationally.

So, what are we going to do about it?

Bailey’s shooting has brought with it so many emotions. It’s triggered traumatizing memories for me. Like the time a (black/young/low-income) close friend was hit by a (white/middle-aged/middle-class) drunk driver while riding his bike, only to have CSPD give my friend a careless driving ticket. The situation was so outrageous that the district attorney immediately dismissed the ticket.

Another time, a person close to me was having mental health issues and called an ambulance, only to have three CSPD officers show up at their door.

Lately, I’ve been reflecting on the prophetic voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Fifty-six years ago, in his gut-wrenching “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” he wrote that police should not simply object to protesters without examining the cause of their actions.

I wonder if we are now willing to hear his admonition: “Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The urge for freedom will eventually come.”

Pikes Peak Community College supports conversations about diversity. To learn more, go to ppcc.edu/diversity.

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