Aspen and Pitkin County cops condemn Floyd killing | AspenTimes.com
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Aspen and Pitkin County cops condemn Floyd killing

Jenelle Figgins holds up signs with instructions on how to help get justice for George Floyd while standing next to Wagner Park on Sunday, May 31, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

The following Letter, dated Tuesday, was written by local law enforcement leaders:

To all our community members in Pitkin County, Basalt, Snowmass Village and the City of Aspen,

We would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the hurt, anger, trauma and injustice we have all seen over the last week. This is a devastating time for the family of George Floyd. The behavior of the officers was criminal and unconscionable, understandably causing disbelief, outrage and despair.

At times like these it is a struggle to find the right words. As police agencies we need to listen, hear, acknowledge, and change where needed. As a society we need to reflect and act on inequity and create change in the criminal justice system.

We will continue our commitment to set the example in treating everyone who lives or works here, as well as those that visit our communities, with respect, blind to the color of their skin. We are grateful that we have officers of the highest caliber, women and men who love and appreciate the values of our communities, and who understand that empathy and compassion are the core of today’s policing.

We know that we are not perfect and that we can never cease in our efforts to gain your trust. When we make errors, we must own them. This is what builds community trust with your local police departments and maintains us as legitimate community partners.

Now is the time to ask ourselves both as individuals and as institutions how we can act to create positive change to help bring real equality to all.

Please reach out to us. We are here for you,

Joe DiSalvo, Pitkin County Sheriff

Richard Pryor, Aspen Police Chief

Brian Olson, Snowmass Village Police Chief

Greg Knott, Basalt Police Chief

Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo on Tuesday condemned the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week and said the United States remains mired in a centuries-old racial morass that must end.

“(Floyd’s killers) were not Klansman but rogue, racist murderers wearing police uniforms,” he said. “In the last 300 years, we have not progressed at all on the issue of race and hate.”

DiSalvo appeared virtually Tuesday afternoon at Pitkin County commissioners’ weekly work session and read a letter from himself, Aspen Police Chief Richard Pryor, Snowmass Village Police Chief Brian Olson and Basalt Police Chief Greg Knott about Floyd’s killing.

“We would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the hurt, anger, trauma and injustice we have all seen over the last week,” DiSalvo quoted the letter. “The behavior of the officers was criminal and unconscionable, understandably causing disbelief, outrage and despair.”

Floyd was killed May 25 after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes after he resisted arrest for suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill.

The local law enforcement officials urged change in the criminal justice system and pledged to continue to field officers and deputies “who love and appreciate the values of our communities, and who understand that empathy and compassion are the core of today’s policing,” the letter says.

“We will continue our commitment to set the example in treating everyone who lives or works here, as well as those that visit our communities, with respect, blind to the color of their skin,” according to the letter. “Now is the time to ask ourselves both as individuals and as institutions how we can act to create positive change to help bring real equality to all.”

Olson said he and the other two police chiefs and DiSalvo have expressed collective sentiments before in letters because they all have like philosophies.

Knott agreed, saying all four agencies have similar beliefs, leadership styles and personnel.

“We don’t agree with what happened in Minnesota at all,” he said. “We want to know what we can do to make things better here.”

Knott said he found it hard to believe his eyes when he first saw the video of Minnesota police Officer Derek Chauvin kneel on Floyd’s neck despite pleas from onlookers that he couldn’t breathe.

“It was shock and awe and disbelief was what was going through my head,” Knott said. “It goes totally against any training that we do.”

Olson said he had a similar reaction, recognizing immediately that Floyd was in a situation where he was certain to suffer “positional asphyxiation.” That occurs when a person is lying on their stomach and cannot belly breathe, which is made even worse when the person is handcuffed and their shoulders are back, as Floyd was, Olson said.

“I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we have been trained how to property handcuff and arrest someone, even if they’re resisting, and have it be safe,’” he said. “It didn’t have to happen. We’ve known about (positional asphyxiation) for so long.”

Pryor said he too was in disbelief when he first watched the video.

“It’s just brutality,” he said. “You can’t relate to what’s happening there.”

And he said that while it might be a difficult time to be a good cop, this is no time for self-pity.

“We will do whatever we can to push against a culture that allows this to happen,” Pryor said. “It seems that police leadership in this country doesn’t take (racial brutality) seriously. They’re scared to take the next step.”

After reading the letter Tuesday, DiSalvo also made a few personal comments, mainly centering on the same issue of racial injustice in America.

“Our country had a brief hiatus from hate in 2008 to 2016,” he said. “I realize now that during that time we didn’t change a thing. We just drove it underground.

“It was always there waiting for the right person to resuscitate it.”

The hooded, Ku Klux Klan racism of the 1920s and 1930s has morphed into government-sanctioned, bald-faced murder in broad daylight, “broadcast live on network TV,” DiSalvo said.

In fact, the murder of innocent black men and women might still be “virtually unnoticed” by white society were it not for the cellphone, he said.

“Who knew this device would play such an important role in race and relations,” he said. “Imagine all the George Floyds and Eric Garners murdered at the hands of police we don’t know about. And police covered up their actions to protect their own.”

He suggested establishing a national database of complaints against police officers accessible to any department where an officer might apply for a job. DiSalvo also said a set of national standards for police behavior should be put together, along with better psychological testing for prospective officers.

“I’m sad for my profession and my country,” he said. “But most all I’m sad for the despicable behavior of police and racist citizens who hurt and kill because of a thin layer of skin that is a different color.”

jauslander@aspentimes.com


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