Aspen area cops decry racism, vow safe weekend protests
IF YOU GO ...Protests in support of Black Lives Matter and George Floyd will be held in Aspen on Saturday and Sunday starting at 10 a.m. at Wagner Park. A memorial for George Floyd will be held at Lions Park in Basalt on Sunday from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the rallies will start at Wagner Park.
Local law enforcement spoke this week with the organizer of two demonstrations against racism this weekend in Aspen following the death of George Floyd to ensure they will be safe.
“We’re going to work with (the main organizer) as best we can to make the event safe and successful with a strong message,” Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said. “I’m supporting every person who’s been persecuted because of race.
“One voice won’t change things but millions and millions will.”
The demonstrations are scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. on both Saturday and Sunday at Wagner Park, the Aspen Police Department confirmed Friday. Paepcke Park on Main Street in Aspen was considered as an alternative location, according to a Thursday city news release.
“We will do everything we can to provide a supportive and safe environment and we ask the same from participants,” Aspen Police Chief Richard Pryor said in the statement. “As professionals and individuals, all of us in the department recognize that the institutional racism that exists is not to be tolerated and that systemic changes need to be made nationwide.”
In addition, a memorial for Floyd titled “Facing Racism and Demanding Change” will be held Sunday from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at Lions Park in Basalt. The event may be live-streamed on the Indivisible Roaring Fork Facebook page.
The cities of Aspen and the town of Basalt urged participants to wear facemasks, observe social distancing protocols and use hand sanitizer to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during the demonstration.
Pitkin County Public Health Director Karen Koenemann said she wrestled with issues surrounding the protest partially because social justice and racial equality are core values of public health as a discipline.
“We look at racism as a public health crisis,” she said, noting that COVID-19 disproportionally targets people of color. “Racial equity is a core value of our department.”
Koenemann also said that people “have the absolute right to protest.”
“But I am concerned about transmission of the virus and does that disadvantage people further,” she said. “I worry about people’s health in these settings.”
While also asking that demonstration participants wear masks and keep a distance from each other, Koenemann also asked that people consider making silent protests. That could cut down on spread of the virus, which is spread further by shouting and singing, according to a Pitkin County epidemiologist who spoke at Thursday’s county Board of Health meeting.
Still, Koenemann said she hopes the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and the prolonged, national reaction to it will bring about “the new not-normal.”
“We have to use this as an opportunity to create a different future for ourselves,” she said. “Is this our wake-up call?”
Both DiSalvo and Aspen Assistant Police Chief Bill Linn said they had heard no rumors of people coming to cause trouble.
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