John Colson: Drop the case, Carbondale — it’s pointless
I should note right off that, after taking a few weeks off from my column writing duties to travel overseas and help a friend clear out his late mom’s house, I half expected that a Carbondale case involving what many view as police overreaction might somehow have been straightened out.
But, nooooo, as they say, it looks like the case is continuing against Michael Francisco, a Black local resident whom the local police apparently judged either guilty of pointing a finger while Black (at a City Market gas-station attendant back on Christmas Eve), or simply guilty of shopping while Black.
I’ve written about this before, in a rather mystified way, and I remain puzzled by the whole thing.
To begin with, I did not know that pointing a finger for a split-second at another person is a crime in Carbondale.
Admittedly, I don’t often point my finger at someone for any reason, since I prefer eye contact to digital gestures, and I’m not Black. Can it be that the combination of the pointing and the skin color of the so-called “suspect” so alarmed Carbondale Police Chief Kirk Wilson and his officers that they felt the need for drastic action?
Another point that I feel needs clarification is why the cops, while confronting the 55-year-old Francisco, felt it necessary to yank off his Rasta cap, which as anyone familiar with Rasta culture knows is typically a symbol of religious expression, similar to a yarmulke among those of the Jewish faith.
It would seem that Chief Wilson, at least, was aware of the importance of the headgear, since he ordered his officers to put it back on Francisco’s head “properly,” according to one news story about the incident. The same story, in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, noted that Francisco is a “practicing Rastafarian” originally from the Central American nation of Belize.
The question then arises, would the Carbondale cops have acted the same if the “suspect” had been, say, someone from the Middle East wearing religiously-required garb, or a Hassidic Jew, or some other outwardly evident religious sect? I sure don’t know the answer to that.
News accounts of the incident make much of Wilson’s claim that the store management was “asking us to ask you (Francisco) to leave.” Francisco’s response was that he was never asked to leave the store by any employee, that he had once worked at that very grocery store, and that he currently was working at the City Market in Aspen, all reasonable assertions of his justification for not leaving.
He was asked to leave after a female gas station employee apparently told someone she was “uncomfortable” about Francisco’s behavior, and word got to a member of the store’s management.
It also has come to light that the same gas station employee openly told police she had experienced a “previous situation” involving a Black patron and some type of behavior that made her uncomfortable. What is that all about?
And then there is the reported response from Chief Wilson, who is quoted by the Post Independent as saying that it was Francisco who acted inappropriately when he demanded to know why he was being confronted and maintained that he had done nothing wrong.
“You can’t fight with officers,” Wilson reportedly said, which I guess includes questioning the officers’ authority to detain, arrest and manhandle someone for little, if any, reason.
I can’t help but take exception to Wilson’s remark.
How might that view of police power play out if applied, say, to the ongoing case of 73-year-old Karen Garner in Loveland?
Garner, a White, female sufferer from dementia, in June of last year was thrown to the ground and seriously injured after she reportedly strolled out of a store without paying for less than $13 worth of items.
Family members have said she likely simply forgot to pay, but she was treated like an armed gang-banger by at least three officers, who have since been either suspended or transferred to desk duty during an investigation.
For the past year, ever since George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes and throttled him, we have been regaled by incidents in which police have gone violently, often fatally haywire, mostly against people of color.
If I were Black and being accosted by police on such meager excuses as in either of these cases — Francisco’s or Garner’s — I, too, would have demanded to know more before being summarily hauled off in custody.
But apparently any kind of resistance to a cop’s acts or attitudes, in Wilson’s view as well as in today’s highly charged racial environment, can mean real trouble.
Such considerations have led me to think it makes much more sense for Carbondale to simply accept that the police overreacted, drop the charges and move on, rather than drag this case out any further.
I mean, what is the point?
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