COLORADO SPRINGS — The nationwide protests demanding justice for George Floyd and several others are simultaneously raising awareness about systemic racism in America, and calling on everyone to take action against it. Many local protesters said some of that racism comes in the form of police brutality, so News5 sat down with the Colorado Springs Police Department to discuss ways they plan on building trust with the community.
Travis Threats was one of hundreds of protesters who took to the streets on Saturday in Colorado Springs. Threats said he wants police to take accountability for their actions, and hold other officers to the same standards as citizens. He said he wants to see action taken by the department as soon as possible, and that protests throughout the country are proving a point about police brutality. "Police brutality is happening, and it's real, and it's in your face, and because of social media and things like that, we can see it... We want to do something about it, and there's a lot of times where our silence is just not heard, and so we're here to make it a little louder," said Threats.
Also at the protest was a group of teenagers, who are growing up with an awareness of how they act around police. They said their parents have had discussions with them, regarding how to stay safe when in a situation with a police officer. "Just because we are African American, just because we don't look the same as you, doesn't mean we're criminals," said Perseis Graves.
Sgt. Jason Newton has been with the Colorado Springs Police Department for 12 years. Sgt. Newton said he joined the force because he wanted to do something to give back to his community. "Everybody that we come into contact with deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, no matter what they did," said Sgt. Newton.
We asked Sgt. Newton what his initial reaction was to seeing the video of George Floyd being pinned to the ground by an officer with a knee on the back of Floyd's neck. "I was just truly devastated, and there's just no words. I don't think I've ever had so many tears in my life in one week, as this past week... Racism in any form is unacceptable, it shouldn't happen. There have been issues, if we don't acknowledge that, we're blind," said Sgt. Newton.
He said the Colorado Springs Police Department strives to become more proactive rather than reactive, and one of the ways they can do so is by engaging in conversations with community members. Sgt. Newton also told News5 the department goes through anti-bias training, and has worked with local colleges to educate themselves on the intricacies of racism. "What do you stand for when you put this badge on every day? When you go out on the streets? So, we really encourage our officers to think critically about how they're interacting, and how that interaction can change someone's life forever," said Sgt. Newton.
Officers have been working around the clock this past week, and Sgt. Newton said there are mental health resources available to them. However, he does not want the message of the protests to be overshadowed by how officers are handling their workload. "I can tell you every single person is tired, but me being tired for a week is okay. Someone might have been tired for their whole life, because they've been dealing with these issues for their whole life. And so, I will take being tired for a week if I can make some positive change, and my officers will too. My officers will sacrifice time with their family, because we want to make sure our community is better," said Sgt. Newton.
Sgt. Newton said there is still hard work to be done, and he hopes this dialogue does not stop when the protests do. He wants community members to be involved in the changes they would like to see made within the department. "We'll try to understand. We know people are fearful, we know people are scared, we know people are outraged, and a lot of time that outrage and fear is directed at us because of what an officer did, and that's understandable, but please give us a chance... Even if you hate me, yell at me, despise me, I will still lay down my life for you, so you can live and your message can be heard... There's still going to be heartache, we can't change that, but we can move forward together," said Sgt. Newton.
Sgt. Newton said one way community members can continue the conversation is through their Illumination Project, which has been around for the past three years. He said in these meetings, the department has the chance to learn more about what citizens want to see happen. For instance, they learned in one session that they needed to engage with the youth more, so they started going into schools and taking over the classrooms for a day.
However, these Illumination Project meetings have not been held since the pandemic started.