Gazette editorial board: Calm down 

click to enlarge Amy Gillentine
  • Amy Gillentine
Truth matters.

It’s always mattered in journalism — but never more so than today, when trust in media is at a record low.

Honesty is the foundation of what we do. As a fiercely progressive paper, the Independent believes truth should always win.

And then there’s the Colorado Springs Gazette. In two back-to-back editorials last week, the Gazette’s editorial board unleashed a deluge of half-truths, hyperbole and fearmongering.

The first, “Colorado favors drugs over cops” serves up an anti-drug, pro-incarceration rant short on facts, long on supposition and exaggerations.

The editorial starts with “Welcome to Colorado, where the law favors illicit drugs.” There’s nothing like a little hyperbole to start the day.

Then it says the state’s regulatory landscape leads one to “reasonably conclude we want more drug dealers and more drugs.”

To back this up, it points to laws decriminalizing hallucinogenic mushrooms in Denver, and brings in the state Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Fourth Amendment in searching automobiles (yes, the amendment that prohibits unlawful search and seizure). Its editorial board then somehow ties House Bill 1124 to the illegal drug trade. (Note: HB1124 stops Colorado law enforcement from detaining people for questioning by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.)

The conclusion, at least for the Gazette, seems to be that legal, legislative and voter decisions are generating a lawless, drug-fueled Wild West.

Left out of the discussion: 

• The over-criminalization of simple possession charges in Colorado. 

• The unequal sentences people of color receive — leading to more incarcerations for African-Americans and Latinos — and the financial burden such nonviolent convictions place on Colorado’s criminal justice system and the state’s taxpayers.
Not every undocumented person in the state is a drug dealer. Plus,the number of undocumented immigrants in Colorado decreased by 30,000 between 2007 and 2017, according to the Pew Research Center.

Felony drug cases have more than doubled in the past six years in Colorado, most of them involving possession, not trafficking. Denver’s decision to decriminalize — not legalize — mushrooms doesn’t mean that every household can now grow hallucinogenic fungi. It means people who are caught with them won’t end up in the prison system.

According to the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, about 30 percent of the felony cases before Colorado courts are for drug-related offenses. In Denver, it’s 41 percent. That’s a lot of money, time and effort spent on nonviolent behavior. (By the way, the Colorado stats show that 75 percent of those cases are for possession, and in 84 percent that was the original charge.)

Decriminalizing recreational amounts of certain substances keeps people out of prison and free from the bias that comes from a conviction.

As far as HB1124 goes, there’s no evidence that hordes of illegal immigrants are lining up to come to Colorado to make drugs. And why does the Gazette, so much in love with the Second Amendment, bristle when Colorado upholds the Fourth, which protects all of us from judicial overreach?

A day later, the G upped their rhetoric with another jaw-dropping headline: “Stop the left from stealing our votes.”

Someone’s stealing votes? Who? Apparently, according to the Gazette, it’s those damned liberals from California.

This one starts with “Left-wing Boulder politicians, who control state government, would annex Colorado to California if they could.” We must have missed something in this year’s General Assembly. (A reminder for the Gazette: Those legislators were elected by majorities of registered voters in districts all over the state — and without help from Russia.)

It turns out the G’s ire stems from the state joining the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact: “The new law would give all nine of Colorado’s Electoral College votes to California and a handful of other big-population states that reliably vote for Democrats with left wing platforms too extreme for a majority of states and the vast majorities of counties throughout the country.” 

No, the compact law removes rule by the minority, something that’s occurred twice in the past 20 years in presidential elections (Bush 43 and Trump). The Electoral College most recently discounted the votes of people who chose Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump (she got 2.9 million more votes). Colorado’s vote helps clear the way for majority rule. (Remember civics class? That’s a good thing in a representative democracy.)

And while we don’t want Colorado to become California, we don’t feel — as the Gazette apparently does — that the American people should be denied the promise of fairness that comes with one person, one vote, or that only conservative votes are worthy of being counted. We want to see the national will prevail in presidential elections 

While none of us expect The Gazette’s editorial pages to suddenly become rational (after all, they have a reputation to uphold) a little more research, a little more attention paid to the facts, would be a good thing.

If you guys believe everyone charged with simple possession deserves hard time in prison, say so, but don’t paint a picture of illegal immigrants pouring into the state to manufacture dangerous illicit drugs. That’s irresponsible.

And if you love the Electoral College, embrace its history and the Founders’ intent, don’t wail about Colorado Springs turning into L.A.

There’s room for disagreement. But discourse based on fear and exaggeration cheapens the conversation.

— Amy Gillentine
Publisher, Colorado Springs Independent

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