Boulder City Council last night moved forward with establishing a police oversight board following a March incident viewed by many as racial profiling. But as KGNU’s Roz Brown reports, council excluded one person who had been recommended for the task force, despite objections from public speakers.
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Sammie Lawrence was a regular at Boulder council meetings until recently. An African American man who uses a tall walking stick for balance because of seizure-related health problems, Lawrence consistently showed up on Tuesday nights to weigh-in at public hearings on issues concerning homelessness. But last month he was arrested while filming a police officer ticketing a group of homeless people.
Police viewed his walking stick as a possible weapon and said he ignored commands to move back. His case is now winding its way through the courts. Nonetheless, he was one of 48 Boulderites who submitted an application to sit on the police oversight board, and the selection committee appointed by council put his name forward. Judy Houston told council she thought Lawrence was a perfect fit.
“I think it’s really simple for folks who don’t have experience living on the streets or being a young man of color to lay judgment on him,” said Houston. “I have found him to be a delightful human being and a perfect person for the job.”
The job – a police oversight board – was initiated after an incident between Boulder police and another black man, a student at Naropa University. Without apparent cause, an officer stopped his patrol car to question Zayd Atkinson on March 1, as he stood in his yard picking up trash – an incident viewed by many as racial-profiling. The second incident with Lawrence has amplified concerns about police behavior toward people of color. But the majority of Council voted against his inclusion on the oversight board including councilwoman Mary Young.
“I feel he should not be appointed because I think his participation could be counter to the objectives of being a collaborative and contributing member,” said Young.
Other council members including Cindy Carlisle and Bob Yates each voiced their own concerns.
“I am disquieted by Mr. Lawrence’s appointment given there are two charges pending against him by our police force,” said Carlisle.
“I join Mary and Cindy in feeling it would be awkward for us to have a person on a board where we’re seeking objectivity who has made allegations against the police force,” said Yates.
Councilman Aaron Brockett who also sat on the member selection committee said voting for him was not a “weighing-in” on the merits of his encounter with the police, but speaking more to his lived experience as a young African American man in the city of Boulder.
Darren O’Connor was a member of the council-appointed group that recommended Lawrence for the police oversight board.
“We chose him for several reasons,” said O’Connor. “Sammie brings experiences as a black man, as a homeless man, as a disabled man, as a person who has had encounters with police – all of which were part of our charter,” said O’Connor.
After much discussion, council voted 7-1, with Brockett the lone dissenter to create the task force with all recommended members but Lawrence. The task force will have its first public meeting on May 30 with recommendations due to council by Sept. 30.
The approved members are Carlene Hofmann, a member of the Boulder Police Officer’s Association; Mike Rafik; Nami Thompson; Madelyn Strong Woodley; Michele Simpson; Sheila Davis; Selasee Atiase; Shawn Rae Passalacqua; James Hill; Shirly White; Todd Conklin; and Sophia Pelcanos. There will also be two ex-officio members: Christian Gardner-Wood of the District Attorney’s Office and John Gifford of the Public Defender’s Office.