Facebook   Twitter   Instagram
Current Issue   Archive   Donate and Support    
Hate-Crimes Townhall in Boulder: A Discussion on Community Discrimination or a Photo-Op For Elected Officials?

Hate-Crimes Townhall in Boulder: A Discussion on Community Discrimination or a Photo-Op For Elected Officials?


No meaningful solutions proposed at town hall on hate crime

Author Note: There is no tolerance for intolerance in Boulder, in Colorado, or in the nation. Safe communities free from hate crime are essential to the well-being of Boulder and the state as a whole. We all collectively need to use tangible solutions to stamp out hate where it springs up. This discussion was a good and necessary thing to do.

However, despite Dougherty’s office reaching out to Yellow Scene Magazine to cover the event, a staffer from his office had zero knowledge of any reporter coming to cover the discussion and asked the district attorney directly if the media was allowed to attend. As a reporter representing Yellow Scene Magazine, I was stopped at the door to the event hall and wasn’t allowed entry until Mr. Dougherty instructed his staffer to let me in.

Editor’s Note (Updated 4/2): YS received a comment from the DA’s office which reads as follows:

“Your article mistakenly states that a member of the District Attorney staff stopped you on the way into the event. That is incorrect. The JCC staff, due to security concerns, were checking people in. When you arrived, they confirmed with me that members of the media were allowed to attend. I immediately agreed, since media had been invited and were welcome to attend. … Our office has engaged in these efforts since 2018, when our office partnered with law enforcement, Out Boulder County, NAACP, the Anti-Defamation League, and many other community groups to launch a Hate Crimes Initiative. Our Hate Crimes Initiative has included a DA Hotline, more outreach to affected communities, enhanced trainings for law enforcement and prosecutors, seeking to establish law enforcement liaisons in every police agency, legislative improvements at the local and state level, as well as events to raise community awareness. This event was our 5th or 6th large community event on hate crimes since 2018.”

Additionally, the full panel of speakers has been updated to reflect all participants.

Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty, Photo credit Kenneth WajdaBoulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty held a keynote town hall and panel at the Boulder Jewish Community Center on February 12, 2024, to discuss the rise of hate crimes and discrimination. To stem the flow of this rhetoric, community leaders came together to share their stories. The audience was largely made up of marginalized people and a variety of police chiefs and sheriffs within the county.

On the panel stood Mardi Moore, Executive Director of Out Boulder – an LGBTQ+ advocacy group – Marta Loachamin, Boulder County Commissioner, Dr. Reiland Rabaka of Colorado University at Boulder and Director of the Center for African and African American Studies, Nikhil Mankekar, a Boulder Sikh Community Leader, and Jeremy Shaver, the Senior Associate Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League, and Imam Nader Elmarhoumi, of the Islamic Center of Boulder.

This discussion started with an essential and fairly standard speech about why hate and discrimination are damaging to the community and the various marginalized people living within it. 

The panelists then discussed the multiple challenges and stories they have experienced both in their personal lives and stories from the community. With many police officers in attendance, it appeared as if most of the panelists shied away from stories regarding police involvement. Dr. Rabaka wasn’t one of the panelists to shy away from the issues law enforcement and minority communities have faced in recent memory. He made a point to speak about a story of when a Boulder police chief had walked into his office, and Dr. Rabaka instantly put his hands up. Dr. Rabaka also spoke about hateful speech directed toward his center and the need to preach love to those who hate.

Shaver of the Anti-Defamation League made a point to discuss the ADL’s 2022 audit into the FBI’s hate-crime reporting. The report showed over 11,000 reports of some kind of hate crime to the FBI. However, Shaver and his team investigated why the FBI number failed to match their own reporting. The ADL in Colorado had reported they saw closer to 1.25 million instances of hate or discrimination. Over 60% of people interviewed claimed non-reporting was due to a lack of trust in law enforcement, per Shaver.

The air in the room gained a newfound weight as the problem of under-reported hate crimes became apparent.

The various police officers and sheriffs in attendance were mainly of high-ranking status; it would stand to reason that they want to reform their precincts and rebuild trust in their communities. Despite this, the panel did not include any law enforcement voices. Officers made no comments about the history of police violence towards minority groups and communities. They made no pledges to better educate their officers or champion reforms, nor were there any clear indications that the police asked any questions on what they could do to regain the trust of previously underserved communities.

All of the panelists – save Moore and Dr. Rabakah – seemed to skim the surface of the police problem and offered somewhat ethereal solutions to hate crimes and discrimination. Proposed solutions were limited to making sure racist or non-inclusive language is not used and seeking out and including those communities who are marginalized. Boulder County Commissioner Marta Loachamin cited the lack of education in the banking system as one of the reasons why people of color historically have a lower income and experience more career and housing discrimination than their caucasian counterparts. According to Loachamin, better financial education could help solve career and housing discrimination among minority communities. While it is objectively a great idea for all people to understand their financial system, education will not change a system designed to oppress specific people.

This ignores a long and sordid history of systemic racism in the Colorado housing and banking market. Fort Collins’ Occupancy limit – more commonly known as U + 2 is a prime example. City law states that no more than three unrelated people can share a house together. The law is routed in racism and xenophobia yet touted as a way to preserve the neighborhoods. 

Addressing racist language is critical to changing the narrative around systemic racism, but it is only a first step. Violent and hateful people don’t care if you call them out for being hateful. A strongly worded letter is not going to stop the assault of a woman in a Hijab or a mailbomb from being delivered to a synagogue.

This viewpoint was not lost on Moore. Her discussion focused on tangible solutions and a rather blunt observation of the challenge. Moore suggested that more accountability was needed for officers who discriminate and that threats of violence and acts of hateful violence be punished and prosecuted with far more severity.

Assigning more officers to marginalized communities as a ‘scarecrow’ tactic was presented as a meaningful solution by Nikhil Mankekar to better protect Sikh temples and Mosques. The room seemed to feel having more security measures in vulnerable places was a godsend, but Moore made a point of saying there simply are not enough funds for this police increase. She claimed that she was not suggesting that Boulder defund their police departments, but noted that police expenses do dominate city budgets. The room came to a deafening silence. The City of Boulder’s police budget for 2024 is almost $44 million, or 8.5% of the total spending.

The panel concluded with a poignant question directed to the district attorney: how might the police deal with discrimination and hate crimes committed by other officers?

Dougherty’s main answer was self-reporting of officers that commit hateful acts or discrimination and mandatory anti-discrimination training for all officers, which led to a few additional questions: If the officers are self-reporting, what is to stop them from not reporting at all? When you investigate yourself, why would you admit to wrongdoing? The problem of misconduct is so severe that a database of police officers who have been fired for misconduct and/or barely passed their qualification was created and reported on in 2023 by the Sentinel Colorado Investigative Lab Reporter.

This panel was a significant first step in addressing the various problems of discrimination and hate in Boulder County. However, the overarching theme of ethereal solutions, the lack of young people and media in attendance, the lack of law enforcement commitments, and a seemingly sheepish approach to acknowledging the problems in the relationship between law enforcement and minority communities begs a question. Was this panel for change or just a photo op for the county’s elected officials? How can community involvement actually lead to meaningful change for Boulder County and the state of Colorado?


Parker Hicks is a Colorado-based writer and journalist working to uncover the most important stories based in the state. When he is not writing, he climbs, snowboards, and enjoys far too fancy of coffees.

Leave a Reply