And all he was trying to do was cool off at a water fountain
by Roger K. Clendening, Special to the Denver Weekly News
Denver, July 21, 2011 – Another unarmed Black man in Denver is dead this week after a questionable struggle with police and security guards at the Denver Zoo.
Ashley was taken to Presbyterian St. Luke Hospital where doctors pronounced him dead at 6:08 p.m., less than eight hours after Denver’s newly-elected mayor, Michael Hancock, an African American, was inaugurated.
Alonzo Ashley died after being tasered by Denver police for allegedly resisting arrest nine days after the one-year anniversary of Rev. Marvin Booker’s jail-based homicide at the hands of five Denver sheriff’s deputies.
And all Rev. Booker was trying to do was retrieve his shoes.
Police spokesman Sonny Jackson says that on Monday, July 18, at about 5 p.m., “several” Denver cops responded to the zoo on a “domestic violence” call involving a “violent” male suspect. Responding officers received “information that the male had threatened his girlfriend and also attacked a zoo security guard” prior to their arrival, said Jackson.
But Ashley’s girlfriend, who identified herself only as Elaina to news media, disputes the police account. She told news media that there was no altercation between her and her “friend” and “lover.”
He became stricken by the heat, went to a water fountain and tried cooling off by splashing water on his head. He was then approached in a “hostile” fashion by zoo security guards and admonished to stop, she reported.
When he didn’t, they attacked him, Elaina told news media. Less than an hour later, he was dead.
Reaction to the death was swift in coming.
While Mayor Hancock, through his spokesman Wil Alston, declined Wednesday to speak with the Denver Weekly News “until after the police investigation,” he had already responded to news media within hours of the deadly incident, while attending an inaugural concert at the Denver Botanic Gardens.
“I’ve been briefed on it,” Hancock told Fox 31 News. “It’s an unfortunate incident that occurred and it’s unfortunate he lost his life. It’s too early to tell what happened; we don’t know all the details. The reality is that we’re interviewing witnesses right now − the police are − and we’ll wait for those details to become clear to us before we pass any judgment. And we’ll ask everyone to reserve their judgment until we know more.”
“Police brutality is killing us. The death of Alonzo Ashley, like that of Rev. Marvin Booker a year ago, reminds us that it is up to the community to ensure that something is done about it,” Rosemary Harris Lytle, spokesperson for the ACLU of Colorado, told DWN in an interview.
Denver now faces the death of another person of color at the hands of Denver Police – another death involving the use of a taser – and it raises all the same questions, says Harris Lytle.
“This is why the ACLU has called on Mayor Michael Hancock to make ending police brutality and the excessive use of police force the No. 1 priority of his administration,” she added. “And this is why we’ve asked the Department of Justice to launch an independent investigation of police practices in Denver.”
Alvertis Simmons, a well-respected political and community activist, told DWN he was angry about the death and vowed to work on getting justice as he did after Rev. Booker’s slaying last July.
“We as a community are sick and tired of members of our community being brutalized, shot down and, in many cases, killed at the hands of the Denver Police,” he told DWN in an interview.
“And to add insult to injury, the Denver Zoo keepers had a big hand in the death of this man,” Simmons maintains. “Are we back in the ‘50s when a Black man could get rousted and killed for using a public water fountain?” he asks.
Simmons says the Ashley death − or killing, depending on the coroner’s findings − reminds him of the Paul Childs and Marvin Booker situation.
Paul was killed at the hands of a Denver cop − Officer Turney − Simmons recalls, “And Mr. Booker was killed at the hands of Denver sheriff’s officers.
“In each instance,” he says, “The cops were accused of using excessive force.”
Simmons says that until the authorities change the cultural practices that dictate how they treat certain people and “especially people of color, these kinds of deaths will continue to happen.”
“It’s the training of the officers and the zoo people that killed that man!” Simmons insisted.
To protest the killing, Simmons and other community activists and supporters of police accountability held a rally on Friday, July 22, at 2 p.m. in front of the zoo entrance facing Colorado Boulevard and Montview Boulevard.
“Let’s get some answers and justice for this family and the community,” says Simmons.
And all he was trying to do was cool off at a water fountain.
Roger Clendening, a freelance writer and editor for the Denver Weekly News, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.