Aurora, CO

Aurora brings back gang program

David Heitz

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By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver

(Aurora, Colo.) As much as violence impacts youths in Aurora, the council still can’t agree on what to do about it.

A majority of council members who identify as conservatives voted Monday to reinstate the city’s gang prevention program. The previous council, controlled by Democrats, had instead sold the public on a large-scale investment in the city’s youth that would have involved non-profit agencies.

Council members Juan Marcano, Ruben Medina and Alison Coombs voted against reinstating the gang program. Council member Crystal Murillo said she does not support the program but voted for it on a technicality. She wants to bring the resolution back to council for changes. To do that, you must come from the prevailing side of the first vote.

“I feel like we said one thing to the community and now that has changed,” Murillo said. “Our youth are not just in gangs.”

A-GRIP supported by Republican majority

The program is called A-GRIP, or Aurora Gang Reduction and Intervention Program. That council minority (the mayor is the tie-breaking Republican vote) and its supporters spoke against reinstituting A-GRIP. “This is a dragnet for Black and brown youth,” said Joel Northam, who attended the meeting in person and identified himself as a member of the Party of Socialism and Liberation.

He said the program uses the veneer of legitimacy to watch over minority youths. He said some end up harassed by police and in gang databases. “Do not throw police at everything, as we all know here this is not the solution,” he said.

Aurora’s police department is working under a consent decree after the death of Elijah McClain. That means an independent firm is supervising the police department.

Angry mayor slams gavel

Coffman became angry a couple of times during the discussion. He repeatedly slammed his gavel. “For those of us from Aurora, we follow a code of conduct. No clapping,” the mayor interrupted as a speaker declared, “Don’t give any more money to these police.” The crowd erupted in applause.

On one occasion, Murillo told the mayor his gavel-banging was “obnoxious.”

Council member Angela Lawson said the program may be expanded. “Youth are getting shot every single day,” she said.

Christina Amparan, youth violence prevention coordinator for the city, said A-GRIP previously only focused on high-risk gang members. “Most of our violent crime is not being committed by identified gang members,” she said.

Boner Boys not traditional gang

The Democratic council members said not all Aurora youth are gang members. One group of delinquents known as the Boner Boys exist as an online chat room, said council member Juan Marcano, a Democrat. “The gangs are not like the Bloods and the Crypts,” he said.

Those opposed to reinstating the gang program noted city staff gave it a lackluster review a few months back.

Mayor Pro Tem Francoise Bergan took issue with speakers who said the program targets people of color. “To say this against people of color? They’re the ones being shot and killed.”

She said that while she agrees the root causes of violence and poverty must be addressed, “That’s a long way away. We need to do something now. The A-GRIP program has a great foundation and that’s why we chose to revert back to that program.”

Medina said youth violence prevention programs need to address the issue of guns. When asked why they carry a gun, some youths will explain they do it for their own safety, Medina said, not because they are in a gang. He noted that’s the same reason adults are allowed to carry concealed weapons.

The gang program ended last year when funding from red-light enforcement camera revenue ran out. Council member Angela Lawson has identified new funding for the program.

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career in editing roles at local newspapers in Los Angeles, Detroit, and the Quad-Cities of Illinois and Iowa. Upon moving to Denver in 2018, I began experiencing severe mental illness due to several traumatic experiences. I became homeless on the street for about a year before spending time in the state mental hospital. I am living proof that people can rebound from mental illness with proper treatment, even after experiencing homelessness. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver. I hope my writing reflects the passion I have for living here.

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