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Denver struggles against police brutality, gentrification

Published Sep 10, 2010 9:25 PM

Shareef Aleem started the Aurora, Colo., chapter of Cop Watch and was a leading member of Colorado Communities United Against Police Brutality. He is the founder of New Ghetto Boogieology and hosts a radio show on Denver’s KGNU. Aleem was charged with second degree aggravated assault on a cop during a Regents meeting for Colorado University Professor Ward Churchill in 2006, but was later found not guilty.

Shareef-Aleem, right.

The following interview was conducted by Denver activist Melissa Kleinman.

MK: Recently there have been a few struggles in Denver. Can you tell us what happened at the Zona’s Tamales restaurant, in the historically Black neighborhood of Five Points?

Aleem: The police did a vice sting on owner Zona Moore, an 84-year-old Black woman, for allegedly having received stolen merchandise. The cops say her brother bought a stolen TV from someone. They charged Zona with theft by receiving. Meanwhile, a nuisance abatement was filed against her Zona’s Tamales, based on accusations of loud customers outside the restaurant.

Over the last 10 years the city has used whatever means to take over not only Black-owned businesses, but Black people’s homes as well. Zona’s restaurant sits on prime real estate for condominiums that Black people in the area can’t afford.

Her restaurant has been in the Five Points community for over 40 years. In previous years she met with the police and the city because as the neighborhood became gentrified she received noise complaints. Destroying her business is a mission they have had for some time now. This was their latest effort to get her out.

MK:  How did the community organize a defense for Zona?

Aleem: When Zona was arrested — the elder was taken to jail in an ambulance — her daughter contacted me. Three days later we held a rally in Five Points consisting of community leaders, respected businesses and supporters. There were over 100 people. The community doesn’t want to see her shut down. This won’t be the end of it, even though she’s still in business.

MK: Recently coverage has been circulating about a police brutality case in Denver’s Lower Downtown area. Can you explain the case?

Aleem: In April of 2009 Michael DeHerrera was talking on his cell phone to his dad while police beat his friend. He told his dad, “They are beating up Sean.” A cop, hearing the conversation, grabbed DeHerrera, threw him to the ground and beat him with a flip jack, which is steel with leather wrapped around it.

The cops later lied on the police report, saying that DeHerrera tried to punch the officer, but a video proves that is a lie.

MK: How did you organize support for DeHerrera?

Aleem: There has been a meeting with the Denver manager of safety. The Black and Latino/a communities are asking that the two police officers involved be fired. There was a march in late August with that demand. The officers were only given a three-day suspension. If the cops are not fired, then the manager of safety should resign.

MK: How can we support Moore and DeHerrera?

Aleem: People can write letters to the city of Denver at Denver Board of Ethics, 201 W. Colfax Ave., Dept. 703, Denver, CO 80202. The letters should include a statement demanding the officers in DeHerrera’s case be fired and that Zona be able to keep her business in Five Points.

MK: Denver is close to Arizona. How do you feel Colorado can support the struggle there?

Aleem: First and foremost we should boycott Arizona, as well as any business or sports team that supports the anti-immigrant legislation. When the Arizona Diamondbacks come to Colorado, for example, we should be there with signs. We also need to create awareness that this could happen in Colorado. I recently had a student on the radio show who participated in some student actions against what’s happening in Arizona.