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Good Cop, Bad Cop

Denver Police Department Struggles to Rebuild Trust Within the Community.

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A flood of police officers and cop cars on the East Esplanade usually prompts a familiar feeling of panic for East students. Yet on August 19th, as the school was scattered with wandering cops, police horses, and a helicopter on the south lawn, the more general reaction was something more along the lines of “Where the free snow cones at?”

The Denver Police Department (DPD) had funded a barbeque, at which police officers and locals could gather together with groovy jams and good food before the summer came to a close. It seemed like a perfect opportunity for children to experience the enigmatic Starsky and Hutch-esque feeling of chilling out on a motorcycle or posing next to a genuine 1960’s police cruiser.

Nevertheless, after listening to officers like Rick Kyle and Anthony Norman, the underlying purpose of the event was made clear.

Kyle explains, “We want to be approachable. So hopefully things like this will help build relations and bring the community together, and show that we’re people too.”

However, finding the positive in light of recent events involving the police has been more difficult than usual lately. The country’s recent past has been riddled with instances of police brutality, even here in Denver. In 2010, the DPD was ranked 6th in the nation for highest rate of police misconduct and first in the nation for rate of excessive force, making events like these more important than ever in terms of police and community relations.

Norman agrees that the event focused around rebuilding relationships and trust within the community, sharing, “Being born and raised here in Denver and growing up with police officers, it’s a great honor for me to represent both the denver police department and the community, and join that positive aspect of what we represent.” Norman is also one of the many officers who wishes everyone would all just focus on positive elements of the police force.

East High has never been too shy to critique the country’s police force. Junior and political activist Indele Garrett takes it upon himself to do so now. He states, “[In the past, black people] were lynched economically, they were lynched mentally, and they were lynched socially. And we forget that it still happens today.”

Although Garrett doesn’t want police brutality to be put on the back-burner any longer, he also understands the human side to the police force when he explains, “It’s not exactly one person’s problem, because a lot of cops go in with hopes and aspirations to help and fix the community, but sometimes it doesn’t go like that because the system is almost set up for black men to go to jail or be killed.”

Discussing how the problem is systemic, Garrett does realize that the solution must be two-sided in order for any change to happen. He admits, “I’m disappointed, because the problems we face with the criminal justice system could be avoided so easily. It starts with conversations. The community, the public, and the youth all need to be involved.”

Garrett realizes East’s importance in the community and dialogue with the DPD. He says we need “conversations in our school so that we can actually get somewhere. It’s East’s job to bring these conversations up as much as possible because it’s situations that we [as students] deal with everyday.”

Murray parallels this when he explains the reason for East hosting the event: “East has always been very open to wanting to be a part of the solution. Even after the walkout, they wanted a dialogue, so it wasn’t like East High School was saying ‘You’re bad,’ what East High School was saying was ‘We want something different. We want a partnership.’”

Head boy Josiah Peters argues that real improvement will only take place once the police department prioritizes their moral duty over their personal feelings. He allows, “They’re here to protect us, and they’re serving their country, they’re doing their job and they’re doing it for justice,” but then continues to say, “There are some police officers who are just using their job for a position of power, and the fact that they have a badge says we have to listen to what they say and respect what they do,” even if that officer shouldn’t be allowed to give orders.

Murray addresses this persona as being perceived as distant and authoritarian, “When they just see us as a face and a badge, and they lose sight of the fact that we are human beings, I think that causes a lot of divide.” Bringing it back to the police barbeque, he reminds everyone, “This is an opportunity to interact with the community on a human level.”

There’s nothing that brings a community together quite like barbeque and dance battle between children and a few brave officers of the law, including Murray himself. He says, “Is it important to reach out to minority communities? There’s no question. That’s our responsibility, our job. We work for you.”

Whatever feelings surrounding the police exist, at least it’s clear that everybody loves a dance battle.

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