A week of protests in Colorado Springs — in the wake of the horrific death of George Floyd in Minneapolis — was organized and carried out by at least two young African American leaders, Larry Black and Deja Alexander.
They offer their perspective on race relations as they push for change in Colorado Springs as a result of Floyd's death and focus on what needs to change when it comes to police brutality, social injustice, racism and economic inequality. And their job has been been daunting this week, much like the road ahead in fostering change.
Two very articulate and thoughtful people, they have talked themselves hoarse communicating with their supporters, police and other civic leaders. They have been trying to weed out instigators who have tried to disrupt the protests which have been overwhelmingly peaceful. When needed, they have tried to diffuse the situations that did turn violent, when we saw some people throw rocks and bottles, set off firecrackers which prompted Colorado Springs Police Department officers to deploy tear gas, pepper balls and rubber bullets to try and disperse the crowds on several occasions.
But they have also been there to facilitate non-violent protest, including a powerful and poignant candlelight vigil Thursday night at Acacia Park in downtown Colorado Springs. They have met with leaders and were repeatedly reminding their supporters — while urging them to shout "black lives matter," "what's his name," or "no justice, no peace" — to remain civil, respect law enforcement, clean up after themselves and ultimately to disperse once the curfew went into effect Wednesday night.
But at the end of the day, the story is about change and progress and the relationship between the minority community in Colorado Springs and CSPD, so I asked Larry Black "Is there a growing level of trust do you believe, where would you say that stands right now, trust level between the parties? Black responded, "There's a lot of work, there's a lot for them to turn around and improve."
And this question, "What's one important point that you want to get across, what would you like to see reform or change?, to which he replied,"The people who put on a badge to show that they're a protector, they should have been a protector before they put on that badge, so when it comes off, at the end of the day, their job should not mean more than what the right thing is."
At Acacia Park during one of the peaceful demonstrations this week, I asked Deja Alexander about change when it comes to the judicial process and accountability on the part of our police department when officers are involved in violent or deadly behavior. "I know one of the things that came out after the De'Von Bailey situation was an independent prosecutor to investigate all deadly or violent situations related to law enforcement agencies, is that something you would support? Alexander told me, "I absolutely support that, I think that for someone that is outside of our judicial system here in Colorado would make a big difference."
But they both admit, let's give credit where credit is due. Progress has been made this week, baby steps to be sure, but change doesn't happen overnight. They have established a dialogue with police and other city leaders, Alexander said that she is proud of her city, Black said after the candlelight vigil and a very positive day on the street, "today this is our community again."
As I continued my One-on-One interview with them, I asked of Alexander, "How important is it to tell these lawmakers, these people that can make change that they need to hear from people on the ground about how these kinds of circumstances have affected their lives? She answered, "That's probably the most important thing, I am black, my brother is black, my sister is black, they're younger generations under us and we need to think about, can I have kids and bring them in to a system that is like this, if the answer is no, we need to change."
And change does come in many forms, and they understand this. Question, "How important is the vote to making change?" to which Black answered, "Please vote, the systems already been built, we want to change the system, adding, "We can scream and shout it doesn't change who's in congress, who's the President, voting does."
As the days wore on and the protests continued, I was curious to ask, what about the future, "How do you keep this at the front burner of society to make sure change does happen." Black's response, Silence is not justice, and we're no longer going to be silent, there has been no, there has not been a set message of we get people's attention and they ask what's next and then no one has an answer, so that's what we're working toward, I don't have that answer right now, because we all have a piece of that puzzle and we're still putting it together."
Black and Alexander are organizing a grassroots campaign to solicit feedback from the community, to present to lawmakers here and in Denver, a Facebook page, "Silence No More," is the site, and they are accepting all comments, and will build a platform from there.