Photos: East Side Peace March draws mayor, police chief, ex-gang members
Between the shooting of Denver police officer Celena Hollis and the death of twelve people at the Aurora theater massacre, it's been a particularly violent summer locally -- a fact that underscored an annual peace march over the weekend. Denver officials and community groups banded together Saturday morning to denounce gang violence and respond to the recent bad headlines.
Big photos below.
"It makes me upset that it's so easy to get guns," says Brigitte Espinoza, a 41-year-old Edgewater resident who came to the march with two of her children and her mother. "I have a twenty-year-old son. Every time he walks out the door, I worry something is going to happen to him."
Her daughter Jazzmin, eight, held a cardboard sign that read "Keep me safe" -- standing in a crowd of around a hundred residents and officials who gathered in Fuller Park for the fourth annual East Side Peace March before walking to the St. Charles Recreation Center. Mayor Michael Hancock, Denver Police Chief Robert White and several Denver City Council members joined anti-gang organizations and youth groups for the event.
Sam Levin Jerome Tafoya, 7, and Jazzmin Tafoya, 8.
In our July cover story "Flash Point," we outlined Denver's plan to respond to a potential rise in gang-related violence in Denver. Crimes like Hollis's murder have raised concerns about a possible sequel to the so-called "Summer of Violence" that took place in the 1990s.
In his speech delivered prior to marching, Hancock -- who called speculations about gang connections in the Celena Hoillis case a "distraction" -- said that the challenge of youth violence is larger than questions of gun control or gang affiliations.
"When a young man or young woman can pick up a gun and point it at someone who looks just like them and pull the trigger, there is something very wrong...with that act alone -- that I can do it, that this individual is nameless to me, lifeless," Hancock said. "That tells you that there's a deeper problem than just whether or not a young person is a member of a gang."
Hancock said he recently sat and talked for ninety minutes with youth who claim gang affiliations about why they were involved in these groups.
"No one had ever told them they were worthy or that they mattered," Hancock said. "The second thing they told me -- and I'll never forget this -- a young man said, 'We need mentors.'"
Hancock then referenced a speech by Cicely Tyson in the Tyler Perry movie, Madea's Family Reunion in which she says to the women, "You are more than your hips and your thighs." To the young men, he said, "Take your place in your communities and your families."
"The power of what she said at that moment was confirmed by what those young people said to me...the other day," the mayor continued. "Every one of them said their family let them down. They grew up without a man in the household. They grew up without a role model in their family. They grew up with dysfunction in their family. Or they grew up with a family that was already embroiled in gangs.... They did not have a chance."
Sam Levin Mayor Michael Hancock addressing the crowd at the Peace March.
Page down for more comments and photos from the march.