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‘We Have The Votes:’ Denver Public School Board Poised To End Denver Police Contract

Adam Rayes
Tay Anderson, students stand silently with fists rasied near the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial at city park.

From on top of a trailer mounted with massive speakers, Denver Public School Board Secretary Tay Anderson stopped a Black Lives Matter march a few blocks in on Sunday to make an announcement many were hoping for.

“Director Jennifer Bacon (vice president of the school board) and I are proud to announce we have the votes to officially end the contract with DPD (Denver Police Department) and DPS (Denver Public Schools),” Anderson said to cheers and applause. “We still will have safe and welcoming schools for all. It is our time to end the school to prison pipeline with bold actions.”

The march was part of a protest planned for DPS teachers, students and families. Later in the march, Anderson laid out a broad plan for how he wants the money to be used. According to the Denver Post, the contract is worth $721,403 annually.

“We will substitute that with mental health support, with restorative justice, with counselors,” he said to cheers. Many in the crowd had signs advocating for similar changes. 

Bacon and Anderson announced the resolution to end the contract with DPD on Friday. If passed, it will remove what are known as School Resource Officers from the district’s schools. There are 18 of the officers across more than 200 schools in DPS. The resolution would phase them out by 2021.

One of the district’s counselors, Jared Lewis, was at the march. He works at Northfield High School. The 28 year-old said he needed to be there marching because he’s black and to support his students, more than 50 of whom he saw out there protesting too. 

“I think some schools do have really good SROs,” he said. “SROs who have related to students, connected with students and can show those communities that police aren’t all bad. That there are people that they can trust and build that relationship with.”

But he emphasized that he doesn’t think every SRO is that good to students and that he supports the contract’s end. 

“Overall I think it’s going to be a really awesome opportunity for students to get the more mental health (support) that they need instead of being treated as if they were criminals for experiencing the same emotions as their white counterparts,” Lewis said. 

Shawnette Gillespie is a Denver mother who joined the march because she wanted to give “a voice” to those impacted by systematic racism and oppression. She says she has been talking to her daughters about racism since they were five. 

“From a black household, that conversation becomes important,” Gillespie said. She was marching with her children: one an 11-year-old, DPS student named Jordyn Brewer and the other a 21-year-old alum named Dasia Runnels. Gillespie said she was “elated” about the contract ending, her elder daughter was too.

The march went from the state capitol to City Park near the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial, where the crowd heard from DPS Board President Carrie Olson, Treasurer Angela Cobián, several students and State Rep. Leslie Herod (D). She represents Denverand sponsored a police reform bill in the state house last week.

“You call your legislator, you tell them they represent you and that you demand action,” Herrod said after telling protesters that some of her colleagues aren’t totally on board with the bill.

As KUNC’s rural and small communities reporter, I help further the newsroom’s efforts to ensure that all of Northern Colorado’s communities are heard.
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