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'It Will Take Much More' Than New Aurora Police Chief To Fix Problems, Says Protest Organizer

Candice Bailey
Courtesy of Candice Bailey

The Black Lives Matter protests that followed the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis brought renewed attention from public officials, activists and the press to the death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who died last year after Aurora police officers placed him in a chokehold and an Aurora Fire Rescue medic injected him with ketamine.

Over the last few weeks, thousands have gathered to protest the Aurora Police Department. But Candice Bailey isn't a newcomer to this movement. She told Colorado Edition host Erin O'Toole she's been protesting consistently since McClain's death in August 2019, even when just a handful of people would show up.

Now, as co-founder of the Frontline Party for Revolutionary Action, she calls for change on a megaphone in front of massive crowds. She was appointed to serve on the city's Citizens' Advisory Budget Committee and the newly formed Community Police Task Force.

Following our conversation with Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson, who led the department as interim chief for the past few months, Bailey joined Colorado Edition to discuss her goals for changing policing in Aurora and Wilson's appointment.

Interview Transcript

This transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Erin O'Toole: I want to start by asking for your thoughts on the selection of Vanessa Wilson as chief of police, and on the process itself.

Candice Bailey: The process has been less than transparent. It has been a harmful experience for our community because we are under the guise of such damaging behaviors by the culture inside of APD. During this whole course for a police chief, I've talked to Vanessa, she's cried. I mean, Vanessa and I do know one another, her and I have a relationship with one another. Because, respectfully, I have to be a conduit for my community because we are being murdered at the hands of a culture.

So Vanessa had me cheering initially because, well, to be honest, she has made more changes in the city than any other chief in the history of our city. So we can be clear about that. For a while I kept saying to myself, is this all performative? Is this just checks of boxes? Or is this really her heart? Fast forward to the past 60, 90 days, Vanessa was doing a lot of great work, but then here comes the violin vigil. We get assaulted. She knew I was the organizer. We were viciously assaulted and attacked, with children.

That broke an already diminished relationship with the community because she's showing that she has no leadership, no integrity. And that her idea of transparency is probably a lot like the brick wall you see behind me.

There is no revolution without love, it's impossible.

The same day of that protest, I had fed 1,500 homeless youth. I am my community and I work hard for my community. I did not believe in violence and I would never utilize the same tactics against someone that they have used against us, against my people for hundreds of years. I'm not even built that way. I will show you better than I can tell you. And there is no revolution without love, it's impossible.

And so it is still my responsibility and my duty to my community to stand up to them, to be a voice and to have courage like never before, because my community needs that leadership. They need someone that has the courage to stand up against this system regardless and say, "not only do our lives matter, but I will fight for our lives." I didn't appoint myself anything. I just have a responsibility and that's what I'll carry out. So no matter who the chief would have become, I would have a relationship with that individual because it's a requirement for my community.

What more needs to be done? What changes would you like to see happening in the city or just in the Aurora Police Department itself?

Well, I think that there is a requirement for a culture change and a culture change doesn't happen overnight. Part of what has to happen is an economic restructuring of what our city actually looks like. I am on the budget oversight committee in Aurora, and we are taking apart a $3 million Aurora Police Department budget.

There are plenty of places and spaces in there that I can tell you, the Aurora Police Department has no business having their finger in some of these pots. They need to be reallocated to grassroots community organizations, to mental health providers, to so many different agencies and agents of love. We just have to dig in and do something that makes sense. If we keep doing what we've always done, we're going to get what we've always gotten and that has to change.

Do you feel that Vanessa Wilson will be able to be successful in this role?

I don't know if success is the word that I want to use because I don't think that we even comprehend what success could look like at this point. In all honesty, I guess I just think about it in terms of moving the needle.

Vanessa Wilson has had her life threatened for the decisions that she has made, for the changes that she has ultimately been making inside of the department. I know that personally, I know that I would never envy her position. I think that she will work towards a lot of great things, but it will take much more than just Vanessa Wilson. It will take the commitment of community. It will take the commitment that we will no longer just take what is given to us. And that we will begin to take action and make demands and start to really require a change that we've never seen before.

And is there a way or is there a hope to build bridges with the community?

Well, that's my job and I don't know about that. That's where I come into play and I don't know how successful I'll be in that vein either.

I believe in abolishment of the police, because first of all, police were slave catchers. That is the root of their tree. And so as we begin to look at that, I often make the comparison, "you cannot turn a cannibal into a vegan." And so as we begin to move from the vein of "what does today look like," I want us to re-envision "what does our future look like?"

But there are some conversations we absolutely have to have. We cannot heal if we are not having the conversations that hurt the worst. And is it going to hurt? You're damn right it is, but we've got to fix it.

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