The local movement for Black Lives has existed since Colorado Springs’ founding in 1871 and continues because we have yet to reach equity.
Our city traces its roots to founder General William Jackson Palmer. Famous for his abolitionist ideals, he was nevertheless complicit in racism, violence and stolen land.
Later, Colorado Springs hosted KKK parades down Tejon Street. Our city was also home to areas known as “sundown towns” where Black people could be shot if they were caught after dark.
Throughout our city’s history, Black Americans have migrated here from the South and other parts of the country looking for a better life. Many of these Black Americans defied the odds, overcame racist setbacks, and accomplished enormous feats. They owned businesses, acquired property, became educated, organized politically and amassed wealth that was beyond the imagination of Black Americans living in other parts of the nation. But no matter how impressive their accomplishments, the fact remains that Black residents of Colorado Springs have always lived with subservient laws, rules and attitudes; discrimination; and institutionalized racism. Throughout our history, this has resulted in segregation; lynching; redlining, robbing of pensions, inheritances, and property; health disparities; police violence and mass incarceration. Black residents have also seen their ambitions limited, and their rise in leadership positions capped.
These racist structures continue to contribute to disproportionate outcomes for Black residents of Colorado Springs. Racism is not a thing of the past.
On August 3, 2019, De’Von Bailey, a 19-year-old Black kid, was shot to death by Colorado Springs Police officers as he ran away. Bailey’s death sparked an outcry in the city that gained national attention. Organizers gathered, protested, held press conferences and stormed City Council meetings and events. Boards were formed in an effort to seek justice for Bailey’s family and to show that Black Lives Matter in Colorado Springs.
Ten months after Bailey’s death, George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, was killed by Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, sparking a global, multi-racial uprising. Despite the fact that Floyd was murdered during the COVID-19 pandemic, people took to the streets in cities and towns across the world en masse, demanding justice against racist police brutality. The wanton death of Floyd — which was filmed on a cell phone camera and widely viewed — brought stark clarity to an issue that had devolved into semantic arguments over whether “Black” or “All” lives matter. The video made clear that, despite the election of President Barack Obama, America is not a post-racial society.
In Colorado Springs, Floyd’s death was an all-too-close-to-home reminder of De’Von Bailey. Through the summer of 2020, Colorado Springs Black Lives Matter protests included a “funeral procession,” for the victims of police violence and the blockading Interstate 25 South. Fueled by global outrage, organizers across the city and state seized the moral momentum to form a police accountability commission and rally behind the passage of a sweeping police reform bill (Senate Bill 217), the first of its kind in the nation.
As we continue to move forward the fight for Black Lives in Colorado Springs, it is important to remember that anti-racism is a verb. This work is happening now. Together we demand the dismantling of systems, policies and structures that produce inequity.
Generously Submitted by Patience Kabwasa, Colorado Springs Independent Columnist and Executive Director of Food to Power