The city of Boulder is grappling with how to move forward after a March 1 police confrontation with a black college student sparked outrage. A video of police confronting Naropa University student Zayd Atkinson — who was picking up garbage in his front yard — went viral.
In response, the city was going to have former Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett investigate the incident, but scrapped that plan after Atkinson and others called for a citizen oversight board instead.
Annett James, president of the NAACP Boulder chapter, is one of the Boulder community members asking for that oversight board. She spoke with KUNC's Kyra Buckley about how the incident is affecting the community.
Kyra Buckley, KUNC: Boulder police are conducting an internal investigation and they say they've put the officer who first approached Atkinson on paid administrative leave. Can you just tell me a little bit of your sense of the relationship between Boulder police and communities of color living in Boulder?
Annett James, NAACP Boulder: Boulder is a cross-section of the real world and the real world has biases, and we need to face that. And when we do face it, we need to be swift and clear.
The process the Boulder police department is doing is very typical of what you see — paid leave, internal investigation — and the Boulder community is not comfortable with that process. One of our biggest concerns was the chief of police refused to really come out and make a statement.
They could have come out very simply and simply said, "We made a mistake. We overreacted." But the police officers didn't realize — or realized but could not walk back — the fact that they had been overzealous, over-suspicious, and (that they) overreacted.
Buckley: What would it look like for Boulder to move forward from this incident and help to cultivate a better relationship between law enforcement, city leaders and the community?
James: First of all, I think the police department has to realize the power that they hold — you know, life, death — but also how we see ourselves as a community and Boulder wants to see itself as an inclusive community. And so we have to make that real.
The police can undo all the goodwill of all the organizations such as the NAACP. They outweigh all the good that we do. So because they have so much power, I think they need to own that and they need to start to do the things that build community ... because my community doesn't want to even refer to them as law enforcers because they're not enforcing the law.
When you profile someone and you interrogate them, you humiliate (and) traumatize them, and then you don't make amends for that — we want to create a citizen oversight board that's diverse and has power.
Buckley: What can other Colorado communities learn from what's happening in Boulder? Especially communities that, like you said, want to see themselves as becoming more and more inclusive?
James: I think you have to really start diving deep into your policy and procedures and protocols. And that's what we're trying to do. I don't presume to know what every community should do, but I do think that until people reach the point where they've done the personal work that removes that initial stereotypical reaction based on bias, we have to have protocol … and all entities that serve the community must have these procedures in place that minimizes a reaction based on bias.