Jan 302006
Authors: Vimal Patel

Two weeks after a black man was reportedly beaten by four college-age white men, activist LeRoy Gomez staged a protest against "racist cops" in front of the city's police department Monday.

Gomez acted as a spokesman for Ron Pittman, a black Fort Collins resident who Gomez says was treated unfairly by Fort Collins Police Services (FCPS).

Pittman has had disputes with his neighbors, but whenever he calls the police, the officers always become suspicious of him instead because he's black, Gomez said.

Gomez called on Chief Dennis Harrison to resign for either tolerating or being oblivious to rogue cops.

"Damn him if he didn't know anything about this incident, and damn him if he did," he said. "The buck stops with the chief. If he can't keep people in line, he's got to go."

Harrison could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon. But FCPS spokeswoman Rita Davis said Gomez is a frequent protestor.

"He does it routinely," she said. "It's a periodic process. He'll sometimes go down to the justice center…sometimes the sheriff's office."

About 10 activists lined LaPorte Avenue just east of Meldrum Street early Monday afternoon, holding signs that read, "Racist Cops Must Go" and "Unfair Treatment from the Fort Collins Police Department Toward Black People."

During the peaceful protest, a reporter heard a white man in a car with other college-age males shout "go home" to the protestors. The closest to the car was Pittman. He says he heard a derogatory remark.

That's life in Fort Collins for a black man, he said. Not physical attacks, just constant harassment daily.

"If I'm driving down the street and minding my own business, white boys come beside you and flip you off and all that stuff," Pittman said. "You have the license plate number, give it to the police, and they don't do anything."

The accusation of unfair treatment by police stemmed from a Nov. 28 incident between Pittman and his white neighbor James Rice, in which Pittman was arrested and charged with misdemeanor menacing.

Pittman, a retired bus driver, would not speak about the pending charges.

The neighbors have had a spate of arguments, according to police reports, in which Pittman alleges Rice used racist language against him, and Rice alleges feeling threatened.

Rice told police he was working on his pickup truck on that morning when Pittman said he was going to kill him, according to a police report.

Pittman told the investigating officer, Eric Sachs, that police never do anything when he calls them, and that he was upset he was the one arrested.

He said whenever he reports harassment, police "flip things around" and he's the one being questioned.

"Calling the police don't amount to a hill of beans," he said.

The dispute between the neighbors has a history in which police have been called to the scene on several occasions. Just two days prior to the Nov. 28 incident, police responded to an allegation by Pittman that Rice had spit at him.

Rice and Pittman live on the 400 block of Franklin Street.

"Fort Collins continues to have the reputation of a racist community," said activist and resident Ed Levering. He said he's lived in several other cities, including St. Paul, Minn., and San Francisco, and that Fort Collins is the worst by far with race relations.

Gomez said people can't understand how it feels to be a minority in Fort Collins until they've walked a day in their shoes.

"I've known Latinos and African Americans who have moved out because of the atmosphere of the city," he said. "It used to be covert, but now it's out in the open."

Davis said that Pittman and Gomez talked to internal affairs but didn't file a written complaint. They were given ample opportunity to do so, she said, but they didn't make the deadline.

Gomez said the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is looking into the treatment of Pittman. The commission could not be reached by press time Monday.

On Jan. 14, a black man walking home from a bar was reportedly beaten by a group of college-age white men on Laurel Street near Whitcomb.

One of the suspects talked with the victim while a full-sized, brown van pulled up and three or four other white men jumped out and beat the victim, police say.

Police said Monday they have no suspects or witnesses.

Gomez cited the incident as another blemish on Fort Collins' record with race relations.

Even though the attackers reportedly used racial epithets, police originally said they weren't sure race was the cause of the assault.

On Monday, Davis went further, saying that even the victim doesn't believe the assault was racially motivated.

Even so, Gomez said the Fort Collins community needs to be far more vigilant than it has been in ferreting out its bigots.

"It's time people stop having their little 'conferences' and their 'dialogue,'" he said. "When incidents like this happened, people need to come forward immediately."

Gomez said all cops aren't bad, but that the bad apples are being protected.

"Chief Harrison knows who the bad ones are," he said. "They know what's going on."

Vimal Patel can be reached at regional@collegian.com

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