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  • 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 https://action.aclu.org/give/support-aclu-colorado

  • 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. 

  • Ronald Johnson is pre-diabetic, suffers from asthma and high blood pressure, and regularly uses an inhaler to breathe. His age and respiratory ailments put him at risk of serious illness and death if he contracts COVID-19. With over hundreds of active cases in Colorado’s prisons, his family fears he will not make it out alive. His daughter, Amber, says, “In prison, he can’t protect himself and he can’t social distance. My deep fear is that my dad will die in prison. That is an awful, traumatic reality to consider. My chest is tight just thinking about how quickly it spreads and how vulnerable he is.”

    Governor Hickenlooper shortened his sentence following testimony from family, friends and correctional officers advocating for his early release. Yet, he is still eight years away from parole. While he remains in prison, COVID-19 continues to spread. Ronald’s three siblings, four children and four grandchildren are desperate for his release.

    Read more about Ronald Johnson and other at-risk incarcerated people.

Urban camping ban proposal mean-spirited, possibly unconstitutional, says ACLU

As witnessed by a Westword item from October, Mayor Michael Hancock and Denver's business and outreach communities have spent months discussing and debating a push to ban overnight camping on public property. Now that the issue is reportedly scheduled to be addressed in a City Council committee meeting on Tuesday, the topic is sparking criticism from other quarters.

Joining the ring is the Colorado ACLU, which calls the ban "unwise, mean-spirited" and potentially unconstitutional.

City attorneys disagree. Already, neighbors in Boulder and Colorado Springs have banned camping on public property, with Boulder's own ordinance coming under fire and passing in court last year. In Denver, the proposed ordinance, fronted by City Councilman Albus Brooks, would make it illegal to live or sleep on public or private property anywhere inside the city limits — pushing the city's homeless away from areas including the 16th Street Mall and the Platte River. This means no bedding and no personal belongings spread out, which could already come under the city's ban against encumbrances on sidewalks. At present, it is legal to sleep overnight on any city property excluding parks.

As the City Council meeting approaches, city officials are tackling plans for how to enforce the ban if it takes effect. Called the "CAM system," the preliminary implementation outline would apply its acronym through contact, assessment and mobilization. Advocates for the ban, including Hancock, stress that the goal is to help the homeless, not imprison them.

In October, when the issue began to gather steam, Westword talked to Amber Miller, spokesman for Mayor Hancock, about the potential ordinance's intentions — namely, that it's not geared at Occupy Denver. Although Hancock has come out in favor of the ban, along with representatives of the business sphere who see it as a positive, Miller stressed the need for a "comprehensive plan."

In the intervening months, however, the ban has raised attention across the board, despite only being scheduled for discussion next week. (Votes aren't expected until the end of April, at the earliest.) While some view it as a healthy step for area businesses that interact with the homeless, the ban has been called a quick fix by those who don't think the city has the resources to apply it effectively. Statistically, this means beds, which Alexxa Gagner, director of public relations for the Denver Rescue Mission, says the city doesn't have enough of to provide a more permanent shelter option for the city's homeless population.

"I think our main priority is the safety of the people we serve every day, and sleeping outside isn't safe," Gagner says. "But we're limited in the number of beds we can provide, and while the city has provided us overflow beds, we still don't have enough. It's just not a permanent solution."

At the same time, Gagner notes that sleeping on public property is also not a permanent solution. But she worries about the ban's potential to criminalize homelessness inside the city. "We're concerned about the ban making it a crime to have nowhere to go without giving them anywhere to go," she says. The Colorado Coalition For the Homeless has also targeted the ban by distributing summaries of its negative effects, including the potential to "criminalize survival activities."

The Colorado chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has come down hard on the same concern. Although director Mark Silverstein has not released the organization's full plan of action, both firm opposition and future investigation factor in. "The proposed 'no camping' ordinance is unnecessary, unwise, mean-spirited, and may violate the constitutional rights of persons who have no money and have no choice but to sleep outside," Silverstein says.

In 2011, according to data from the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative, Denver's homeless population was comprised of 62 percent families, up from 53 percent in 2009. Almost 25 percent of the city's homeless community is newly so. In reviewing the proposed ban, Gagner urges city officials and residents to reconsider the perception of the chronic homeless individual.

If the city does not have enough beds for those who would have to leave the streets, private organizations are a likely next step, she says, pointing to success stories associated with Denver's Road Home. The Rescue Mission's partner organization has formed relationships with local churches to house members of the homeless community, particularly women.

"I would hope that the goal of the ordinance would be shelter for people, whether that's churches stepping up or more community relationships or whatever that looks like," Gagner says. "It's not a long-term plan to just move them off the streets. We have to remember that they're a part of our community."

This blog by Westword writer Kelsey Whipple was published Wed., Mar. 28 2012 at 11:56 AM



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