Massive protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death led to legislation to curb police brutality in Colorado. But two high-profile efforts to “defund” or reshape police departments and security forces have failed.
The Denver City Council and the board overseeing the Regional Transportation District this month rejected reappropriating law enforcement dollars to mental health and other social safety nets.
That hasn’t deterred a University of Colorado student organization from giving it a try. The CU group has picked up the mantle, hoping to set the path for statewide divestment, beginning on the more than 30,000-student Boulder campus, the largest in Colorado.
DiversifyCUnow, the group of BIPOC students, staff, faculty and alumni, now has ties with all four of the CU campuses in the state. On Aug. 18, the team of students, faculty and staff met with state Rep. Leslie Herod, a Denver Democrat who spearheaded the passage of Colorado’s police accountability bill in June, to discuss how defunding a police department might look different on a college campus, than in the city of Denver.
“Divesting from police is divesting from white supremacy,” CU student Gwendalynn Roebke said. “They’d rather speak over us, for us, instead of listening to us.”
The group hopes to reallocate some of CUPD’s $7.5 million budget towards mental health training for BIPOC students, by BIPOC students, specific scholarships and housing for students who are Black, Indigenous or people of color, and mandatory and annual 16-week diversity training for all faculty, staff and students.
CU is a predominantly white university. It is the least diverse in the Pac-12 athletic conference and the fourth lowest in the state. About 1% of the student population identifies as African American, and the majority of those students are athletes on the football or men’s basketball team, the group said.
The CU effort can learn from the Denver and RTD attempts to defund law enforcement.
“It’s one thing to participate in protests or to see the graffiti on walls around our district, and it’s another thing to consider how the specific legal language of a bill will change how our city interacts with its people,” Hinds said.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock wasn’t happy with the way the bill was introduced either, calling it reckless and hypocritical.
“So long as I’m mayor, we will not abolish the Denver Police Department,” he said. “So long as I’m mayor, we will not erode the capacity of law enforcement and first responders to keep our communities, neighborhoods, schools and homes in Denver safe.”
Shontel Lewis, a member of RTD’s board of directors, earlier this summer introduced a resolution to end the agency’s ties with police officers and security personnel.
The board voted 14-1 against the measure, with Lewis casting the sole yes vote. Many members thought there were good ideas presented, but said the plan needed clarity about what the reallocation of funds means, before cutting the entire security budget.
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