Denver Man Dies After Altercation With Police Over Water Fountain

August 8, 2011  |  

By Alexis Garrett Stodghill

Alonzo Ashley, 28, died at the Denver Zoo on July 18 after several police officers responded to a domestic violence call placed by keepers at the institution. Zoo employees claim that Ashley had threatened his girlfriend (who will only identify herself to the media as “Elaina”) and attacked a security guard; therefore, he needed to be restrained.

Elaina disputes the claims of the police, saying that Ashley was attacked by up to a dozen officers and tased for merely splashing water on his face from a water fountain. After being tased Ashley stopped breathing, and was dead one hour later.

Local leaders are pressuring city officials to end what they see as a pattern of deadly violence emanating from Denver’s police force cutting deeply into the black community. A year previously, Rev. Marvin Booker was accidentally killed while in police custody. Activists, such as ACLU spokesman Rosemary Harris Lytle, are crying out for an end to these injustices:

“Should the police have used a taser at all? Was there a way to diffuse the situation so that the force of more than a dozen police officers and security personnel would not have to be used? Could the police have utilized tactics that would have prevented the worst possible outcome: The death of another Denver resident after an encounter with the police? These are questions that must be answered. They must be answered by police leaders and by the city’s leader,” Harris Lytle insisted.

“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.”

The recently-inaugurated African-American mayor of Denver, Michael Hancock, has told the community that the incident is being investigated.

This pattern of black men being “accidentally” killed by cops is a sorrowful national trend, with stories appearing again and again, year after year. Amadou Diallo. Oscar Grant. Sean Bell. Alonzo Ashley is yet another victim of over-zealous cops destroying life in the name of protection.

Few people in power want to address the internalized racism and poor training of police that lead to cruel deaths affecting only black men. They fall prey to “accidental” killings at an overwhelming rate compared to any other group. If that fact alone is not enough indication of a crisis, it is unclear what could be more compelling.

Police organizations nationwide must be revamped to protect African-American males from the dangers of trigger-happy police — even if that trigger fires a taser. Otherwise, all government leaders will continue to be complicit in these ongoing crimes.

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