On the afternoon of July 23, an Army veteran named Kyle Vinson is sitting on a curb in Aurora, Colorado, when two police officers confront him. “Stay down! Roll over on your face,” one of the officers yells. He has his gun drawn. The officer shoves Vinson to the ground and holds him there. “Whoa. What the hell did I do, dude?” Vinson asks. He puts his hands up. The police are responding to a trespassing report and tell Vinson that there is a warrant out for his arrest. A minute later, the officer pistol-whips him. He eventually chokes Vinson to the point where he is gasping for air. While gripping Vinson’s neck, the officer threatens him: “If you move, I’ll shoot you.” By that point, Vinson’s head is covered in his own blood.
What happened to Vinson this past summer—captured on the officer’s own body cam—is an all-too-common experience for Black men in America. What happened in the days that followed, however, was far more unusual. The chief of the Aurora Police Department, Vanessa Wilson, quickly released the officer’s body-cam footage and abjectly apologized to Vinson in a news conference. The officer who brutalized him, John Haubert, was charged with assault and resigned from the police force the same week. Haubert’s partner on the scene, Francine Martinez, was charged under state law with failing to intervene on Vinson’s behalf.
For advocates of police reform in Colorado, the swift response to Vinson’s assault offered unmistakable evidence that a first-in-the-nation law they lobbied to enact last year is working. “What you’re seeing is just a greater willingness to bring criminal charges against police officers,” one of Vinson’s attorneys, Qusair Mohamedbhai, told me. “That’s a direct impact of the legislature passing these bills.”
The Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity Act, which moved rapidly through Colorado’s Democratic-led legislature while protesters marched outside the state capitol in Denver during a wave of nationwide demonstrations, touches nearly every aspect of policing. It requires officers to wear body cameras at all times and for departments to promptly release footage of incidents. It redefines the use of force by police, stiffens penalties for misconduct, and exposes officers to personal liability if they violate a person’s constitutional rights. [Continue reading…]