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Locals react to recent racism: "It's always been there"

Call to action for community to start conversation
Experts say there is a mental health crisis in the black community
Posted at 1:48 AM, May 28, 2020

COLORADO SPRINGS — Recent events caught on camera have sparked outrage across the country and started a conversation about racial tensions in America.

George Floyd, 46, is described as a former high school football and basketball star. Floyd is reported to have coached kids in his spare time. His family describes him as loving and trusting.

Floyd died after a Minneapolis police officer pinned him to the ground using his knee on Floyd's neck for more than eight minutes while he was handcuffed. The officers were responding to a report about alleged forgery on Monday evening when it happened.

Ahmaud Arbery, 25, was jogging in Georgia, when a white family followed him because they claimed they thought he was a burglar. Arbery was shot and killed by the family on February 23. A video of his death surfaced in May, and shortly after, the men charged with his murder were arrested.

And in Central Park, a white woman was recorded saying she was going to call police and tell them an "African American man" was "threatening [her] life." The man who recorded the video, Christian Cooper, said he asked the woman to put her dog on a leash.

The owner of Midtown Barber Shop, Thomas Smith, said he does not think racism is becoming more prevalent in our society, but that it is being caught on camera more often. "How many times has this happened? And innocent people got killed and nothing was done about it, because it wasn't recorded and nobody saw it. This is a pandemic, the killing of innocent black men," Smith said.

Smith has two sons of his own, and he worries for their safety. He said people cannot deny that racism exists in America and that it has been happening for years and years. "The conversation definitely has been sparked, but is it going to go past the spark? Is it going to actually ignite and become a flame?" Smith said.

Shirley Martinez is the vice chair of the Pikes Peak Diversity Council. Martinez said there are lots of unconscious biases playing out in cities, states, and the government. She said racism has always been there, bubbling under the surface. "As a 7 or 8-year-old, being in Georgia in the 60s, I remember seeing some of the things that I'm seeing again today. It's scary," Martinez said.

The recent recorded instances of racism are nothing new, according to the president of the Colorado Springs Black Business Network, Rodney Gullatte. "If you forget your history, you're doomed to repeat it," Gullatte said.

Gullatte said it is essential for people of all ethnicities to take part in the conversation about race in America. "You don't shy away from a conversation, and don't feel threatened, don't feel offended. If it doesn't affect you, just listen. You're uncomfortable because you are challenged with the morality and the ethics of what you see going on," Gullatte said.

In Colorado Springs, Gullatte said people need to work together to speak out against injustice. "The problem is there's a gap in the relationship with the greater Colorado Springs, and this 6.9% demographic of African Americans that live here in Colorado Springs. So, it's on both of us, both of our responsibilities, to bridge that gap," Gullatte said.

Even though Gullatte said institutionalized racism has evolved over the years, he said there are still several ways to move the conversation about racism forward in a productive manner. "Suiting up, and going to your boardrooms, and immersing yourselves in organizations where you're usually not seen," Gullatte said.

Meanwhile, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Professor Stephany Rose Spaulding said she is pushing for a national effort to launch a truth and reconciliation project. She said this would be accomplished with people writing to their representatives and legislators, paying attention to their constituents. Spaulding hopes acknowledgment, curriculum, and legislation would be the result of a nationwide project like this.

Spaulding also had some helpful questions to use to get a conversation about race started. "It is not just an attack on policing. It is structural, and infiltrating all aspects of our life. So, one way is to begin to have conversations with your family, like how does the murder or the death and the loss of life that we continue to see in our news feed, how is that impacting you? What would the world look like if you had the power to change things? Where can we begin?" Spaulding said.

All of the people News5 spoke with said it comes down to political leaders making changes in the country regarding acts of racism. Still, they said individuals need to shoulder personal responsibility, and reach out to those representatives in charge of making such changes. "It is all of our jobs to do the work of anti-racism. It is all of our jobs to do the work of justice. It is all of our jobs to do the work that is healing," Spaulding said.

Smith boiled it down to one simple point: "No matter what, it's a human life. Life is precious."

A local publication called My Black Colorado will be releasing their June edition on African-American history soon. The magazine features black professionals, entrepreneurs, creatives, and civic and social organizations across Colorado. Many people have already purchased subscriptions, and My Black Colorado invites everyone to do so, to help start more conversations about black history in our community.