The Denver Sheriff Department has murdered again. Michael Marshall passed away as a result of injuries sustained at the hands of Denver sheriff deputies around 6:30pm on November 20, 2015, after over a week on life support.
What does a community do in the absence of official channels to seek justice? What does a community do in the face of killers who operate with impunity—backed by the State? Killers who, to add insult to injury, pass on the monetary and emotional costs of their brutality to the very city they brutalize.
This is the challenge facing some communities in Denver, and many communities across the United States. But it’s a challenge they’ve faced before.
In 2010, Denver sheriff deputies pummeled, tasered, and beat Marvin Booker to death in the Denver jail. Why? Booker was a 50-something, Black, slender, unhoused, and beloved street preacher, who dealt with mental health challenges, and he didn’t want to give up his shoes.
Marvin Booker wasn’t a threat. He wasn’t violent. And he didn’t need to be separated from his shoes, which were one of his only possessions.
But in the milieu of discipline and punishment, control of bodies, and the breaking of human spirits, Denver sheriff deputies used such force to separate Booker from his shoes that he subsequently died.
Nobody was reprimanded. Nobody was held to account. If you spend time in Denver’s jail today you may be held under guard by some of the same people who murdered Marvin Booker.
Ultimately, it was Denver taxpayers who forked over some recompense as they had to cover the $6 million payout made to Booker’s family.
So goes the cycle of brutality, impunity, and taxpayer burden. And now it begins anew, with a strikingly similar case of brutality to the one that stole Marvin Booker’s life. Michael Marshall, a 50-year-old, Black, unhoused, slender man, who also described himself as a street preacher and dealt with mental health challenges, lost his life at the hands of Denver sheriff deputies trying to restrain him.
Why they were trying to restrain him isn’t entirely clear, but reporting from the Colorado Independent indicates that video footage shows Marshall posed no physical threat to the officers who killed him.
After over a week on life support following his beating at the hands of three deputies, Marshall passed away.
His killers remain unidentified and will likely receive little more than a paid vacation as a result of their actions. But one thing is for sure—the community of Denver will respond.
Following Booker’s killing hundreds of Denverites took to the streets in multiple protests. Marshall’s killing will likely prompt a similar response.
Indeed, concerned citizens already rallied for a press conference and a chance to mourn with family outside the jail in which Marshall was killed.
My question: Isn’t an even stronger response warranted?
At what point does Denver rise up as we’ve seen Baltimore, Ferguson, and other cities in the face of routine police violence? And who will throw the first brick, stone, or Molotov cocktail?
Because something needs to change.
And in spite of recommendations from independent parties, and a newly appointed sheriff, the jail’s use of force policy remains the same. And now it has again led to the killing of a harmless Black man.
Michael Marshall’s killing happens at the intersections of oppression: Racism, classism, and ableism. A paranoid schizophrenic who may or may not have been able to recognize commands coming from sheriff deputies or police officers, Marshall was held on a bond of only $100 for an alleged minor offense.
If our inJustice System wasn’t racist, classist, and ableist, Michael Marshall would’ve never found himself trapped within the cold concrete halls of the Denver jail where he would be murdered.
If our inJustice System wasn’t structured around the control of bodies, using violence to instill docility, and compelling people to follow rules structured to protect elite interests through arbitrary discipline, Michael Marshall would still be alive.
If our inJustice System truly presumed the innocence of those forced through it, nobody would sit in jail over a $100 bond, and Michael Marshall would still be alive.
If our inJustice System was designed for the people who are most-often forced through it, then it would offer them services to improve their situations, not Tasers and violence, and Michael Marshall would still be alive.
It’s long past time for this to change. What will we do to make sure that happens?
Another world is possible, but it will only come if we fight for it. So, Denver, rise up. Fight for Marvin. Fight for Michael. Fight for all those who came before them, in the hope that fewer will come after.