February 11, 2022 | NEWS | By Victoria Calton | Photo by Sydney Morris

During the summer of 2020, protesters took to the streets to fight against injustice and racism following the death of George Floyd. Amid chaotic riots, parades of protesters lined up in opposition to the Colorado Springs Police Department to raise awareness about police brutality.

Colorado College Aluma Celia Palmer ‘19 found herself protesting with local Black Lives Matter (BLM) advocates in downtown Colorado Springs. On June 2, 2020, Palmer and her friend were leaving the downtown area when they were tackled to the ground by responding officers. Palmer claimed the officers involved with her arrest were Sergeant Keith Wrede and Officer Wesley Woodworth.

Due to Woodworth’s actions during Palmer’s arrest and for commenting “KILL ‘EM ALL” and “KILL THEM ALL” during a Facebook live stream of a BLM demonstration on I-25 on June 30, 2020, he was put on suspension without pay for 40 hours and has since been reassigned to a different position within the force.

Palmer and her friend were restrained without warning and charged with failure to disperse from riot conditions. After the charge was dismissed, Palmer filed a lawsuit against the city of Colorado Springs, Wrede, and Woodworth due to their use of excessive force that led to Palmer’s arrest and consequent brain injury.

Rosalie Rodriguez, senior associate dean of students for diversity, equity & inclusion at CC, finds aggressive police conduct against protesters a violation of the values and ideology upon which the United States was founded. Rodriguez points out that civil disobedience can take many forms when bringing injustices to light, but peaceful protest is the most noticeable and recognizable.

“Excessive force is never okay,” Rodriguez said. “In a country that claims to value freedom of expression, violent response from state actors should not be commonplace.”

Although protesting is often seen as the default form of social resistance, it carries a great danger of retaliation from both state and non-state actors.

Since the incident, Palmer continues to struggle with brain trauma. “Bumping into stuff, extreme fatigue and sensitivity to light and sound because your brain is like, basically spending so much energy trying to figure out where you are in space that it can’t do other things as well,” said Palmer on News5.

The Colorado Springs Police Department settled the lawsuit in a $175,000 payment to Palmer. According to the Colorado Springs Gazette, this lawsuit has prompted changes to the Colorado Springs Police Department’s policy handbook about how to handle crowd dispersal. Officers must now verbally warn people before using less lethal tools or force.

This first step towards changing police conduct still leaves room for contention.

 “I want to make it clear that in no way are actions like this justified,” said Rodriguez. “Changing the system is a long-term goal and every action towards it helps, but…we also need to consider the risks.”

This shift in policing policy in Colorado Springs may prevent another excessive force incident among protesters, but it is far from meeting the demands of those who took to the streets during the summer of 2020.

The city maintains a solid stance in support of the actions and operations of their officers and police department. “The city of Colorado Springs chose to settle this case in the interests of its taxpayers,” the city told The Colorado Springs Gazette. “The cost of litigation is a consideration in making settlement decisions. In regard to this matter, no court found any wrongdoing by the officers involved.”

Students who would like to get involved in on-campus or off-campus protests should reference CC’s Demonstration and Protests resources to stay safe while bringing awareness to important social issues.

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