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EDITOR'S DESK: What's to stop a Baltimore in Old Colorado City?

By Kenyon Jordan

       The recent Baltimore riots were tragic; I think most people can agree on that much.
       The property losses, the burning, the looting, the attacks against police and firefighters, not to mention the overall blow to Baltimore's reputation as a safe and caring city,

will take years to overcome - if ever.
       Now imagine if it happened here.
       Is that so far-fetched? Is it so unlikely that someone could get injured or killed while being arrested in Old Colorado City, amid facts that are initially murky and perhaps hint at a civil-rights violation?
       What if? We've seen how this has played out in the past and more recently Ferguson and Baltimore. All it takes is that one incident to incite lingering grievances and professional agitators to exploit them, combined with a criminal element eager for free goodies, a weak-kneed government and a sensationalist media that's more than happy to report divisive rumors rather than wait for inconvenient facts.
       And there it could be… Old Colorado City, one of the few remaining, intact Old West towns, up in flames while gleeful throngs dance and steal and throw bricks at police officers as they stand, useless and immobile, somewhere around 23rd Street.
       Historic buildings trashed or destroyed. Independent business owners ruined. The heart of the Westside lost. All for a few days of national notoriety while our community becomes a political football. Weeks or months later, the truth may come out that police actually committed no crime, but it won't matter by then.
       So, are we helpless in such affairs, just a roll of Fate's dice away from such a scene? I'd like to say no. A big reason is that a number of Westside citizens have been working with local law enforcement, staff and elected officials to bolster communications as well as to seek solutions to shared issues of criminal concern.
       The group is the Avenue Task Force, an informal entity that's been meeting, usually once a month, for over two years. Agenda items range from panhandling to human trafficking to multi-jurisdictional policing. It's not unusual for high-ranking individuals from the El Paso County Sheriff's Office and Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs PDs to be on hand, along with City Council members or county commissioners. The group's most recent initiative is the “It's OK to Say No” program, which urges people to give to charities rather than street beggars, on the grounds that they are a detriment to local businesses, often engage in other crimes and use the handouts they get for substance abuse. Whether you totally agree or not - and the facts indicate you should - the point is that we have residents and officials who are earnestly trying to keep our area a decent place to live.
       I'm not saying that the mere presence of this task force could prevent the terrible outcome I suggested at the start of this column. But it does give us citizens a way to stay on top of the things that define us as a community and to fix them, as needed, before they break beyond repair.
       Anyone - let me repeat - anyone is welcome to attend the task force meetings. So if you truly care about the Westside community - not to mention the city as a whole - and you'd hate to see its enduring values go up in smoke, maybe you could do worse than drop by sometime and see, as author Ken Kesey once put it, where your good can do the most.

(Posted 5/1/15; Opinion: Editor's Desk)

       Kenyon Jordan is the editor of the Westside Pioneer.

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