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Black Coloradans share stories of discrimination as state considers racial equity study

Lawmakers are considering a bill that would create a task force to study the economic impact of racism in Colorado.
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Posted at 8:56 PM, Feb 01, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-01 22:56:36-05

DENVER — As state lawmakers consider a bill to create a task force to study the impact of racism, Black citizens shared personal stories of discrimination they have faced while living in Colorado.

The Colorado Black Caucus invited community members to testify at a public hearing Thursday morning. The hearing, which was held in the old Supreme Court Chambers on the second floor of the Colorado State Capitol, provided lawmakers with an opportunity to hear from community members about Senate Bill 24-053.

The bill would create a task force to study the economic impact of historic and systemic racism on the state’s Black citizens.

“We're excited to get this bill through the process,” said State Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver. “I don't want to get us too far ahead of ourselves, but I am confident that both chambers will pass this bill and the governor will sign it into law.”

Four panels of citizens testified during the hearing, sharing stories of discrimination they say they have experienced firsthand.

Sheriece Hurd, a Denver native who now resides in Arapahoe County, shared a story about her conviction of involuntary manslaughter, which she said stemmed from a 2004 domestic violence incident in which she was the victim. She was sentenced to 26 years behind bars.

“I knew it wasn’t right,” Hurd said. “I was in front of all these white jurors, not one Black, and nobody sat up there and understood what I was going through but me. And my attorney was telling me you’re the wrong complexion.”

Hurd said her sentence was later reduced and she ended up serving seven and a half years. She said she supports SB24-053 because of what she experienced.

“No matter how much hurt and pain I've been through and how I’ve been wronged in so many different ways, it's not just about the studies. It's about the change,” said Hurd. “We deserve something different. We deserve to get treated equally.”

Anna Jo Garcia Haynes, a legendary early childhood educator and an inductee into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame, shared a story that happened when she was a young woman. It began when she and her fiancé went to get a marriage license.

“We were told that we could not marry and it was because of Colorado’s anti-miscegenation law because he was Black,” said Haynes.

She said they went to another location and were once again denied.

“They told us, ‘Do not come back,'” said Haynes. “We had to go to Mexico to get married.”

Haynes said the experience impacted her family for years, especially her husband, who was traumatized.

“We tried to help him, but his humanity was just squashed and he was unable to keep jobs because of that. This led to the loss of our home and we finally divorced,” said Haynes. “Colorado now has some protective laws, but Colorado needs more legal support. We need Colorado to turn these incredibly sad stories of racial harm into research and numbers that can make a huge difference.”

The task force, which would be led by History Colorado, would try to measure the economic damages racial discrimination has caused. While that might make some think of reparations, the bill’s sponsors say any potential conversations about that are far off.

“There will be an economic analysis as a part of this study, but we can't predetermine what the outcome will be,” said Herod. “But I look forward to seeing that and then determining how we want to move forward when it comes to any type of repair that may be done.”

The Legislative Council Staff estimates the task force will cost the state $1.4 million over two years. If the bill is approved, History Colorado must submit a report detailing its findings to the general assembly by July 2026.

Black Coloradans share stories of discrimination as state considers racial equity study