Today marks a year since Michael Brown was shot and killed in Ferguson, Missouri. The 18-year-old black man died at the hands of a white police officer, an incident that sparked massive protests. Then came reports from other states, including in Colorado, of other encounters, some deadly, between police and people of color.
A year since Ferguson, Colorado Matters returned to the Montbello Barbers in northeast Denver. The show went there two years ago for a conversation about racial disparities in income and education. Twice a month, there are more formal discussions at the barbershop, among a mostly African-American crowd. That series is called Shop Talk Live. We returned because we wanted to hear whether participants thought there had been changes, and whether they saw hope, in their communities since Ferguson.
"The black barbershop historically has been that place where people come and they're comfortable," said the shop's co-owner, Greg Allen. "So when you spend that much time in a place, then eventually you guys will talk about things that are controversial, or things that matter in your community, and so that's why the shop has been, will always be a place where people congregate, feel comfortable and talk about the things we think we can change."
Click on the audio link above to hear the full conversation with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner. Edited highlights are below.
Theo Wilson of Denver on whether he's hopeful about the increased attention on police violence against African-Americans:
"Categorically no, I'm not encouraged by what's going on. And the reason is because the police violence keeps happening. If I'm not mistaken, the killing of Sam DuBose, in Cincinnati, happened last week. And you would think that the officers would gather all of their people together and say, 'Hey guys, the heat's turned up on us right now, let's see if we can be a little more disciplined and patient in our policing...'
"Nine times out of 10, your interaction with the police will be very peaceful here in Denver. It's the tenth time that we're concerned about. [...] It's those times where you realize that this officer himself is having a bad day and does not seem to know the rights that you have as an individual."
"It's that tenth time out of ten that is not being monitored by the higher-ups and if that does go poorly, there is no recourse for the citizen."
Greg Allen of Denver on why the shootings feel personal:
"When these things happen, because the only thing consistent is the skin color, then you stop seeing these as 'other people.' These aren't things that are happening to people we don't know. These aren't even things that are happening to our cousins, our friends, our brothers. These are things that are happening to us. And it gets really personal, really quick, when we get in our private spaces...
"We knew these things were happening, but there wasn't much proof except hearsay. Now with social media, now with all of our smart devices, all these things that we heard used to happen, now we know."
Allen on how he teaches his son to interact with police:
"I've always called myself as nerd. One of the things that I did, as a nerd, was to go to the public library and find out from police officers 'How do you behave?' I got the message from my uncles who told me what to do, but I wanted to read what do police look for that'll take away their concerns, so that if I'm pulled over, I won't die."
"The tips are when you see those red lights, pull over immediately but safely to a place that's well-lit and in a way that they can see every moment. Don't make any herky or jerky moves. Be calm in your demeanor. Keep both of your hands at 11 and one o'clock and look forward and do not move until the police moves and asks you to move. Many people already know that they're going to ask for your license and registration. Do not reach for that until he asks you to and has the light on you so that he can see that you're safe. When you talk, be respectful, try to smile."
Tyrone Beverly of Denver on the underlying issues facing his community:
"Talking about law enforcement is only a piece of the problem... A lot of it's a distraction. I mean, people are being killed, but I think there are things deeper than that going on that's not being addressed as well."
Theo Wilson of Denver on what Black Lives Matter means to him:
"Black Lives Matter is fundamentally a taxpayer complaint, asking the salient question: 'Why are we paying the police to murder our children?' Meaning, when people point out black on black crime, I ask them, 'Do you know a Crip or Blood paid by tax dollars to serve and protect?'
"When we make our cry known, they ask, 'Well you need to take, why aren't you taking personal responsibility?' My retort to that is, 'Why do I have to be responsible for my behavior and the cop's behavior? Which one of us is being paid to be responsible for their behavior?'"
The difference between "All lives matter" and Black Lives Matter:
Allen: "When people say 'all lives matter' vs 'Black Lives Matter,' I want to say it's not equivalent. One is a statement of fact, all lives matter, the other is a movement of acts. Black lives matter and they have to matter and we have to make matter by doing things that change this country."
Betty Hart, of Denver, on Black Lives Matter:
"Semantics matter. Words matter. The fact is that Democratic [presidential candidates] felt compelled, at first, before they did the polling and discovered that wasn't working for them, to say that 'No, no, it's not Black Lives Matter, all lives matter.'"
"Then they discovered that, oddly enough, people in the black community who probably would have voted for them suddenly aren't going to vote for them... Suddenly [they] reverse their point of view and , 'Make no mistake, Black Lives Matter.' I don't think so. If it takes you being told by Twitter that you made a mistake, then you don't really care. "