Denver Asks 'What About Our Daily Shootings?'

Jul 19, 2013
Originally published on July 19, 2013 3:45 pm

This weekend, the city of Aurora, Colorado, will remember the 12 people killed and 70 injured in the mass shooting at a movie theater one year ago.

But some community leaders in nearby Denver say there are other shootings that deserve attention too.

They wonder how to get the public to care when people are killed in a steady trickle, often in poor neighborhoods.

From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Andrea Dukakis of Colorado Public Radio reports.


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Well, this weekend, the city of Aurora, Colorado, will remember the 12 people killed and the 70 injured in the theater shootings a year ago - important, necessary for many. But some community leaders in nearby Denver say there are other shootings that deserve attention as well, and they wonder how do you get the public to care when people are killed one or two at a time, often in poor neighborhoods. From the HERE AND NOW Contributors Network, Colorado Public Radio's Andrea Dukakis has our story.

ANDREA DUKAKIS, BYLINE: No one wants to take away from the horror of the Aurora shootings last year. It's just that people like Pastor Reginald Holmes, also want you to know about what happened here at the intersection of Bruce Randolph Avenue and York Street in North Denver. It happened just a few weeks before Aurora and just 12 miles away. Two men, Justin O'Donnell and Deon Rudd, were shot dead. Two other men allegedly opened fire on the victims in broad daylight.

It's unclear whether it was gang related. Pastor Holmes also wants you to know that after the shootings, the body of Justin O'Donnell literally baked in the sun on the sidewalk.

PASTOR REGINALD HOLMES: Normally, you cover a body. They left that person out for about two hours, and I think everybody who drove by were just absolutely appalled.

DUKAKIS: The community was outraged that O'Donnell's body was left for so long. Police say they were still collecting evidence and didn't want to move the body. But Pastor Holmes sees the police's actions as a slight to neighborhood residents, who are mostly black and poor. And he worries killings like these are viewed as routine.

HOLMES: When you have a mass killing, it sort of trumps what's happening every day, murders that are occurring and people are looking at them but yet they're not feeling them.

DUKAKIS: Pastor Holmes says it seems to be harder for the public to sympathize when murders happen in neighborhoods already struggling with poverty and gang violence. He's teamed up with Butch Montoya, the former head of public safety in Denver. Montoya now runs a Latino ministry here, and the two speak to communities and to their own congregations about violence in poor neighborhoods.

BUTCH MONTOYA: We want publicity, or we want news coverage, or we want awareness for the fact that someone died here. You know, there are parents, their sons and daughters and wives that are grieving and it's like no one cares.

DUKAKIS: You can look at police records and see that 16 people were murdered in Aurora last year, not including the theater victims, 39 in Denver. But you'd be hard pressed to find all of those names in the news. Greg Moore is editor of The Denver Post. He says he and others in the media need to constantly remind themselves not to neglect these stories. He says, of course, the Aurora shootings had a huge impact. But he says any life being lost tears at the fabric of a community.

GREG MOORE: And I admit, that's not always recognized, not just by people who are part of a community but sometimes the media as well. I mean, we tend to relegate that to a brief, and sometimes we need to elevate that so we can get the attention of the public.

DUKAKIS: That's why Reverend Leon Kelly carries what he calls his death list. Kelly runs Open Door, an anti-gang group in Denver. His list has a thousand names of people, mostly young people who have been killed in the city in the last 25 years.

REVEREND LEON KELLY: I always take my list with me to serve as a constant reminder. And, you know, once people get to realizing how many young people have lost their lives, that sort of causes some to back up and take a second look.

DUKAKIS: As for the murder at Bruce Randolph Avenue and York Street, there is still a small reminder of what happened here a year ago. It's a memorial, a tree covered with plastic flowers near where O'Donnell and Rudd were killed. Pastor Reginald Holmes says at least there's that.

HOLMES: You know, regardless of what the rest of the world or the rest of the community here thinks about the people who live in the inner city, the bottom line is, is that these folks are human. They have feelings. And whenever I see a memorial erected, I think that that is a sign of humanness. And I think that that's what these folks really want to convey to the rest of the world. They remember, they remember.

DUKAKIS: Pastor Holmes and others we talked to, know that the issues behind all of these murders are complex. They also know that remembering them isn't enough. But they say that just as it feels right for the community to pause and reflect when murder happens on a large scale, it feels wrong to pay too little attention when lives are lost one at a time. For HERE AND NOW, I'm Andrea Dukakis in Denver.

YOUNG: We heard voices from Chicago where so many die in gun violence saying the same thing after the Trayvon Martin shootings. How do you get people to pay attention to daily shooting deaths? It's a topic we'll take up again. HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.