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Denver Chief Paul Pazen, community activists reflect on one year since the death of George Floyd

Policy changes and conversations on moving forward persist
George Floyd
Posted at 5:41 PM, May 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-26 01:47:37-04

DENVER — A look back at the last year since George Floyd was killed shows a country coming face to face with issues of policing, equity and justice.

People marched on city streets to show change was needed to fix many problems that had been embedded in the community for decades.

Dr. Vern L. Howard, co-chair of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Colorado Holiday Commission, knows the struggle and sees it from a historical lens.

"Dr. King said that a lot of people are asking when will we be satisfied? When will we be satisfied? This was back in 1963," Howard said.

In fact, Howard helped build the Martin Luther King statue in City Park.

"We’re still seeing some of the same exact issues today that we saw then," Howard said.

But he says just talking about the issues isn’t enough.

"We can talk until we are blue in the face, but talk is cheap," Howard said.

Alvertis Simmons, a civil rights activist, agrees.

"The Bible says faith without work is dead, so you can do all the talk you want, you say you believe in this and you believe in that change, but if you don’t do something about it, it doesn’t matter," Simmons said.

Simmons says although police reform bills at the national level are still being discussed, it comes down to what is inside each officer's heart.

RELATED: One year after George Floyd's murder, Colorado lawmakers consider more police reforms

"We have to ask the question, are we serious about change? Change comes from within. It doesn’t come from the top. It doesn’t come from the bottom. It comes from within, and they have to be willing to change, the police, themselves," Simmons said.

Denver Police Department Chief Paul Pazen has been at the forefront of all of that change, especially since walking arm-in-arm with protesters last year.

"We are committed to improving, and what I saw in Minneapolis, what I’ve seen across the country too many times is unacceptable, and we have to work together, arm-in-arm, to prevent those tragedies from happening in our community," Pazen said.

Pazen says because of their policies, what happened in Minneapolis to George Floyd would not have occurred in Denver. Still, he says changes have been made in the department’s policies, training, accountability and culture.

"Some of the very first changes that we made post-George Floyd killing is strengthening that use of force policy, so we made some additions to it to strictly prohibit all choke-holds. There was one exception: if it was a deadly force encounter, then it was allowed. We didn’t want any ambiguity in this," Pazen said.

RELATED: A year after the death of George Floyd, pain and protests for police reform persist

Moving forward, a lot of the work related to change has to be done together.

"Chief, you have to be more transparent. You have to come out here and be a part of the change. Help us help you mend the fences," Simmons said.

Meanwhile, Pazen said he recognizes that many times, it is ideas that come from the community that help make just policies.

"We believe that some of the best programs, the best outcomes that we have seen is when we work together with the community members, and we’re hopeful that we can reestablish trust and relationships with our community," Pazen said.

Pazen also pointed to the recommendations that came out of the Office of Independent Monitor’s report. He says they agreed with all 16 recommendations.