Colorado Rights Blog


  • Cedric Watkins is a father, uncle, entrepreneur-in-training, and a vital community pillar for many others. While behind bars, he has tirelessly devoted himself to serving his peers and his community. He developed gang disaffiliation programs for other incarcerated individuals and is currently involved with Defy Ventures. He sends letters and calls his daughter as much as he can.

    Cedric is currently in prison at Sterling Correctional Facility. He was convicted of aggravated robbery, burglary, kidnapping, theft and sentenced to 80 years; no one was seriously injured or killed. For comparison, a person convicted of second-degree murder in Colorado faces a maximum sentence of 48 years. Cedric has already served 20 years and has fully rehabilitated during that time.

    It’s time to bring Cedric home: Redemption is real. Clemency is compassion.

  • On November 21, 2016, 13 Aurora police officers responded to a simple noise complaint at Alberto Torres’s home. As happens all too often, Aurora police officers escalated this minor issue into a brutal affair. They beat Mr. Torres solely because he delayed exiting his garage to ask his wife to interpret for him. With that beating, the lives of Mr. Torres and every member of his family were changed and he has yet to recover. ACLU of Colorado fought to obtain justice for Mr. Torres, and Aurora has now paid him $285,000. But money is not justice, and the brutality of the Aurora Police Department against people of color has continued unabated.

    It doesn’t have to be this way.

    Imagine, if instead of 13 officers being dispatched to Mr. Torres’s home for a noise complaint, the City of Aurora sent a civilian-led response team to check on his welfare and ask that he and his friends lower their sound, resulting in a non-violent solution to a minor issue?

    ACLU Settles Case With Aurora After Police Brutalize and Unlawfully Arrest Alberto Torres

  • Hope is a discipline. It’s a commitment that together, we can create a more perfect union. We won’t rest until we fulfill the promise of equal rights for ALL people in the United States.

    Join us in our fight to fulfill this promise and move forward with hope by donating to the ACLU of Colorado. Your donation supports the ACLU’s strengths that make our work effective and collaborative.

    Donate now at

  • Anthony Martinez is 84-years-old and suffering from renal failure, as well as other serious medical conditions including dementia. He is currently incarcerated in the Sterling Correctional Facility, site of one of Colorado’s largest COVID-19 outbreaks with almost 600 active COVID-19 cases. He and his family are understandably terrified that he will catch the virus and die.

    In the midst of this public health crisis, incarcerated people as vulnerable as Anthony, could and should be immediately released to safely live out their remaining years with family.

    Read more about Anthony Martinez and other at-risk incarcerated people. 

To Teach the Truth: My Understanding of Critical Race Theory

August 6, 2021

When I was a sophomore in high school, my world history teacher started off the class period one morning with a question. He presented the class with a sweatshirt that all the teachers received as a gift from the school for the holidays. Along the sleeve of the black sweatshirt, in white thread, read the school’s name: DSST: Stapleton. He asked my class, “Should I take this black permanent marker and erase the name Stapleton?”

He then gave a short presentation about the history of our school’s name. Benjamin Stapleton was a leading member of the Ku Klux Klan when he was elected mayor in Denver in 1923. There was a Denver airport named after Stapleton and when the area was converted into a (predominantly white) suburb, the name was passed on to the neighborhood. My high school was then named after the neighborhood. In a school community that held high values around diversity and serving students from all racial backgrounds and walks of life, how did it make sense that our school was named after a white supremacist? Especially someone who had used their mayoral power to leverage one of the most violent hate groups in American history.

My teacher took a poll from each class period throughout the day, and the next morning had shown that the white supremacist Stapleton’s title was now gone, buried under black ink. 

This presentation stuck with me because it was the first time in my K-12 education in Denver Public Schools where a teacher was being honest and open about Colorado’s racist history. More importantly, they gave us the right to choose how we felt about it and to exercise our own critical thinking skills.

He wasn’t the only teacher who was having these conversations with their students. Later on, many students and faculty in the community grew passionate about changing the school’s name. After years of organizing, debating, researching, voting, and pushing DSST’s board of directors, the name was changed to “DSST: Montview,” named after the street next to the school that sits on the cusp between the Stapleton and Park Hill neighborhoods. Recently, the entire neighborhood of Stapleton’s name has been changed to “Central Park” which is a result of the impact the school’s name change had on the larger community.

“Critical race theory isn’t about painting the United States positively or negatively, it’s about sharing the truth.”

This is why critical race theory is so important, especially with America’s racist history. It’s unjust to everyone, but especially those oppressed, to not provide accurate information about the nation’s history. In the case of my high school, being open about Benjamin Stapleton’s racist history enacted positive change where people in the community banded together to denounce the ownership of the name of a white supremacist. Critical race theory technically wasn’t a part of the curriculum of that history class, yet my teacher had created such a huge impact because of how inspired our community grew to represent ourselves accurately and with respect to students of color. It’s important to recognize that the efforts to educate are what allowed for the community organizing and change to be possible. 

Being in this school environment led me to become a part of clubs where I organized around social justice, and what ultimately caused me to major in Sociology and minor in Ethnic Studies. My Ethnic Studies minor gives me a perspective of the experiences and histories of BIPOC communities in the United States, while my Sociology major helps me understand and empirically measure the social conditions that allow for these oppressions and power dynamics to persist. Had I not been exposed to a community that made so many efforts to be socially aware of race and oppression, my life would be on an entirely different path. I would have never been involved with nonprofit organizations like ACLU that not only focus on racial justice in legislation but are actively against bans on critical race theory.  

Critical race theory isn’t about painting the United States positively or negatively, it’s about sharing the truth. Too many of our history books paint the perspective of the U.S. as the victor or savior but are hesitant to share the truth of colonialism, domination and oppression. Many think that teaching critical race theory is unpatriotic because it includes harsher truths, but I would argue that it’s less patriotic to not own the nation’s history in its entirety, good or bad. The only way to move forward from our history of violence and put an end to cycles of oppression is to tell the full truth in order for accurate solutions to be created. Those against critical race theory don’t want the accurate history of the U.S. to be accessible because they currently benefit from how our systems operate as a result of historic violence and understand that their privilege could be revoked if the larger population were made conscious of these unjust moments in history.

Change is not possible if our nation continues to debate whether or not it’s justified to be taught accurate information. If middle and high school age students were able to enact so much change from what they learned in a five-minute presentation of the racist reality of my school’s name, I can only imagine the amount of progress and the future we could have as a nation if critical race theory was included in K-12 education for all students in the United States.

Kristen Narona is an ACLU of Colorado summer intern and student pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and a minor in Ethnic Studies.

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