Boulder City Council held a “listening session” last night to hear from residents who shared stories but also demanded action over what many have called a racial-profiling incident of a black man that occurred on March 1. KGNU’s Roz Brown says an independent investigator has also been appointed to review the incident.
During the three-hour public hearing several people of color related incidents of racial-profiling and worse to city council while other Boulderites corroborated such experiences with their own stories ranging from racism, to white privilege, entitlement and discrimination.
“This is only the beginning of longer conversations about race,” said Boulder Mayor Suzanne Jones.
The controversial incident two weeks ago began after a Boulder police officer aggressively questioned a Naropa University student picking up trash in the front yard of a home near Folsom and Arapahoe. Zayd Atkinson, who is black, produced a student I.D., but the officer detained him and called for back-up with several more cop cars rolling up and at least one weapon drawn. Boulder City Manager Jane Brautigam called what happened unacceptable and then announced a new development.
“A thorough investigation is underway, and tonight I can share that former District Attorney Stan Garnett has agreed to conduct an independent review,” said Brautigam.
Not everyone, including Zayd Atkinson thinks the appointment of Garnett as independent investigator is a good idea.
“I asked for an independent review about what happened to me,” said Atkinson. “Instead Boulder has picked an insider to review the incident and I have been ignored and my power taken away again.”
The Boulder incident received national news attention, and highlighted what many speakers said was Boulder’s perception of itself versus reality. Naropa’s President Charles Leif said he’d received an inquiry from a poet asking if it was safe to come to Boulder for his teaching assignment.
Anna Segur related the story of her Salvadoran husband, who she said is still traumatized by a mistaken identity incident that occurred in Boulder four years ago when he was pulled by police over while driving with his children and ordered out of his vehicle. She said he never received an apology.
“I’m really saddened that it’s four years later and it’s happened to another male and I’d really like to see Boulder make some changes,” said Segur.
Ja’mal Gilmore was among the overflow crowd last night. A veteran who has lived in Boulder for nearly 20 years he tried to explain what’s it like to be black man in a white community.
“When I see you, I say hello – when you see me, you say nothing,” said Gilmore. “You do this thing that my people call the ‘look-no-look’ because you only look at me to recognize I’m black. You profile me, landowner, business owner who fought for your country. You look at me like I’m the bad person. Do something!”
Gilmore was the not only long-term resident who has experienced racism. Nikhil Mankekar is an Indian-American and a follower of the Sikh faith who was born in Boulder and currently heads the Human Relations Commission.
“The issue being discussed? I’ve experienced this racism,” said Mankekar. “I ask the Council to stop the talking, and take action – the time is now.”
Annett James, president of the NAACP’s Boulder branch, said the organization eagerly awaits the end of the city’s investigation into the incident.
“We will be there to ask that you immediately empower a citizen oversight board,” said James.