Denver, CO – Last week video of an incident was released in which two police officers beat a gay couple, Shawn Johnson and Michael DeHerrera, without apparent provocation. In response to reports that the two victims of police brutality in Denver are also gay, members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) community joined in calls for a zero tolerance policy on excessive force violations and demanded the termination of the offending officers on the heels of the resignation of Denver’s Manager of Safety, Ron Perea. This news comes as the Denver Police Department and the Denver Jail have come under fire for three high-profile cases of excessive force.
The officers in question were given only three days suspension without pay by Manager Perea, although Denver’s Independent Monitor, Richard Rosenthal, suggested their dismissal after his report found that the officers had falsified their accounts relating to the incident. Mayor Hickenlooper has called for an independent investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigations. Manager Perea offered his resignation on Monday, August 23 in response to multiple demands for him to step down from community leaders.
According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Program’s 2009 Anti-LGBTQ Hate Violence Report, while total incidents declined, bias-motivated police misconduct, such as unjustified arrest, police entrapment, and police raids all represent higher proportions of all hate violence incidents reported in 2009 than they did in 2008. Additionally 79 of the reported offenders of this hate violence were law enforcement. Locally, a recent poll conducted by One Colorado found that 10% of LGBTQ Coloradans experienced harassment by a police officer or other civil servant in the last year, although the rates are significantly higher if the person was African American (19%), Latino (12%) or transgender (19%).
"We’ve already documented five cases of police misconduct in Denver, alone this year, with four additional cases reported in other parts of the state," stated Crystal Middlestadt, a co-director for the Colorado Anti-Violence Program, a statewide community organization that works to end violence within and against the LGBTQ community. "Despite inclusive local and state anti-discrimination laws as well as an inclusive federal hate crimes law, LGBTQ people of color continue to be disproportionately targeted by law enforcement. It is time for us as a community to come together and organize responses to violence that do not rely on criminal legal systems, systems that continue to discriminate and even re-victimize us."
"As we wait for the findings from the FBI investigation, we must recognize that this is not an isolated incident. Our Legal Helpline hears regularly from people about civil rights complaints against the Denver Police Department," declared Mindy Barton, the Legal Director for The GLBT Community Center of Colorado. "We need a criminal justice system that works to build trust and security among our communities, rather than terrorizing people with fear and violence."
"With the Compton Cafeteria Riots in San Francisco in 1966 and the Stonewall Riots in New York City in 1969 as the most notorious examples, the roots of the current LGBTQ movement are directly related to police brutality," stated Jessie Ulibarri, a gay Latino community activist. "Nearly 50 years later we are still fighting against this type of violence. The resignation of Manager Perea is the first step in a longer process of community healing."