A large meeting room at the CentrePoint Plaza in Aurora was packed on Sept. 27, where community members gathered for the second-ever Arapahoe County Racial Equity Subcommittee community event.
The goal of the event was to provide a safe space for attendees to share feedback and stories about their experiences in Arapahoe County’s justice system, county spokesperson Anders Nelson wrote in an email.
The subcommittee, which exists under the Arapahoe County Justice Coordinating Committee, works to identify inequities, collect and analyze data on equity issues and develop preventative and rehabilitative strategies to address bias in the county’s justice system.
District 4 Commissioner Leslie Summey, District 3 Commissioner Jeff Baker, 18th Judicial District Attorney John Kellner, Sheriff Tyler Brown and Aurora Police Department Interim Chief of Police Art Acevedo were at the meeting.
Summey, who serves on the subcommittee and is Arapahoe County’s first African American commissioner, told the crowd that she is working for the county’s disenfranchised and marginalized communities.
“Family, we have a commitment to reform,” she said. “We know that, especially for some of us in the room — the people of color, the marginalized and the disenfranchised … We’ve been placed in a system that is always working against us.”
In Arapahoe County, everyone should be able to thrive and be healthy, safe and happy, she said.
“That is our commitment in this racial equity subcommittee,” she said. “That is why we exist. To challenge the systems, to create the change and to do better.”
Baker, the subcommittee’s chair, said the intent of the event was to listen.
“This is time for us, instead of lecturing, to give people voice,” he said. “We wanted community input on what we should be doing.”
A focus on Jor’Dell Richardson
As the meeting began, a group of over 30 people marched into the event, carrying signs that said “End racist police terror” and “Justice for Jor’Dell Richardson.”
The group’s entrance set the tone for the evening.
Over the course of the two-hour meeting, every public commenter spoke about Richardson, the 14-year-old boy who was shot and killed by an Aurora police officer on June 1.
As reported by the Sentinel Colorado in June, Officer James Snapp chased and tackled Richardson after the boy allegedly took part in a convenience store robbery.
Officer Roch Gruszeczka, who was also involved in the struggle, shot and killed Richardson. Richardson was carrying a pellet gun that resembled a real pistol, the Sentinel Colorado reported.
Earlier this month, Kellner, district attorney for the 18th judicial district, released a decision not to file charges against either officer involved in the event. His report said both officers were legally justified in their actions.
During the community event on Sept. 27, speakers shared memories of Richardson, questioned Kellner’s decision and demanded consequences for Snapp, Gruszeczka and Acevedo, the police department’s interim chief.
Richardson’s girlfriend, friends and brothers spoke directly to Acevedo at the meeting.
“My brother, he had to pay his consequences with his life,” a young boy said. “But the officer who killed my brother, he didn’t have to pay no consequences.”
“He shouldn’t be on a shirt, he shouldn’t be on a picture — he should be here, standing here with us,” another boy said. “We shouldn’t even be here today. None of us should be here.”
Systemic change and future meetings
Summey said the conversations were a push to make systemic change.
“What we have are people in this room who are in pain, and we also have people in this room who can do something about it,” she said. “What we need to do is examine our systems that have been in place to be judge, jury and executioner of Black and Brown people for centuries in this country. We are asking that to stop.”
As a mother of five Black children, Summey said the topic is personal for her. She said her community wants to make sure that when their children go out and make a mistake — or aren’t doing anything wrong — they have an opportunity to come home.
“That does not happen with Black and Brown families. It just doesn’t,” she said. “So as we look at state statute, as we look at oaths of office and as we look at trainings, we need to rethink the systems that put us in this room this evening.”
Although he was disappointed the event did not go deep into solutions or cover all parts of the criminal justice process as planned, Baker said he was proud that Arapahoe County held a space for the community’s needs with a capable facilitator, community leader Candice Bailey.
“We heard from the community that, rather than discuss what we had intended the meeting to (cover), they had a more pressing need,” he said.
The Racial Equity Subcommittee plans to host more community listening events in the future, Baker said.
“We’re gonna take what worked well last night, what could be done better and come together as a group, debrief and make a plan moving forward,” he said the day after the meeting. “Arapahoe County sees its role as the convener and facilitator — convening and facilitating discussions that are oftentimes uncomfortable, but may result in positive changes to the local criminal justice systems.”