Dear Boulder Council Members,
Sitting at the council meeting last night, listening to public comment on the Sammie Lawrence arrest, and the response from City Attorney Tom Carr and City Manager Jane Brautigam, as well as the council’s own responses, I couldn’t help but feel that there were two conversations happening, in parallel. On one side, you have the police (via reported results of their internal review), City Manager and Attorney all sharing their view that Officer Waylon Lolotai did nothing illegal in arresting Lawrence the way that he did. On the other, you have citizens of Boulder and surrounding communities saying that they expect better from the police.
For several moments, it appeared that council might not take any action at all, until Aaron Brockett requested and Sam Weaver supported the request for the Lawrence arrest to be subject to independent review through the same process now being undertaken in the Zayd Atkinson profiling case. With two investigations in process, it poses some important questions for council, as ultimately city and police staffing, culture and accountability fall under your purview.
The questions go something like this: Are we content to hold police to behavior conforming only with the letter of the law? Do we require nothing more of them than that they do nothing demonstrably illegal? Or do we recognize that not breaking the law is the lowest possible threshold we can set for acceptable police behavior? Do we want to take steps to build a police force that goes beyond that threshold and is expected to treat citizens with respect and decency? That is expected to de-escalate situations instead of escalate them? The police do not have an easy job. Do we use that as an excuse for them, or do we recognize that, and still set expectations of behavior that are consistent with the power they wield?
Will you wait for the results of internal and external investigations, or have you seen enough to start taking meaningful action now? If the officer(s) are found to be within the letter of the law but outside of the community’s expectations of human decency, what then? Are you prepared to take action, and if so, how, and when? Beyond the legal questions, these are cultural and human rights questions, and you are uniquely in position to lead on answering them for the City of Boulder by selecting and/or guiding city and police leadership that will set a culture that is more in line with what your community deserves and demands.
For my part, I don’t mean those questions rhetorically. You have the power to make a meaningful difference here. This isn’t a philosophical exercise. What will you do?