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‘Beauty lies with people’s capacity to understand need for reform’

“A night in jail should straighten you out. A few nights.”

This was the last comment I heard while being placed into the back of a police cruiser, blood dripping from just below my left eye, a sizable bruise from the officers repeated knee blows, and a complimentary pair of handcuffs.

I won’t waste readers’ time with proclamations of my innocence, or by berating our city’s police department. For the most part they do a good job, and for the most part, I am a good man. All things falter in perfection, and my reasons for writing this come from a place of concern as both a citizen and a military veteran.

“Over-policing” isn’t a new term nor is “abuse of power.” It will not likely be a surprise to hear that Durango is very familiar with both of these. Yet, over the past few months, these issues have grown in severity at a frightening and unsettling rate.

I feel less protected and more bullied by these young new officers, and their superiors stand by without correcting their behavior. Quite simply put, I am concerned for our city.

I wish it were speculation or paranoia, but I am neither blind nor naïve. The officers whose comment started this guest column knew I’d spend some time, a good several weeks of it, locked in jail. They knew what they’d write on the report, and knew the charges wouldn’t stick.

To my detriment, it was well within their power to have me suffer under the weight of a simple lie. Whether to teach me a lesson or protect the pride of the police, the issue there becomes obvious and dangerous.

It’s worth noting that under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, displays of “abuse of power’ are punishable by court-martial, the military’s highest form of disciplinary action. I realize local police aren’t held to the same standards. But the dangers that can erupt from abusing one’s power stays constant throughout.

Placing oneself above the law and beyond the reach of accountability. Free to charge anyone with a crime, for any reason.

A trial may keep us from losing our head but it will not keep us from the stockade. In that regard, we are guilty until proven innocent. That is not freedom. If you cannot post bond, you cannot go to trial. We are given the option to plead guilty to a lesser charge and go home, or spend five to eight months in jail, if we choose a trial.

We are powerless against our would-be, should-be protectors, and to wound their pride is one of the most dangerous crimes a person can commit. It is why I spent more than a month in jail. And it is why they are still beyond accountability. I will not – and cannot – respect an organization that does not respect our people. We the people.

I fear them.

No dollar can return what law enforcement stole from me. I was beaten down, forced into a box, my fiancé extorted for cash (bail). I have to bear the title of convict and criminal because some kid with a badge said I broke the law.

That is not justice.

Our legal system does not know justice. Our policemen and judges do not understand justice. They know little more than selfish ambition, ego and arrogance at the expense of every man, woman and juvenile who ever stood before the mercy of the court, and didn’t have the money to buy their right to a fair trial.

“Equal protections under the law” is the biggest crock of junk I’ve ever heard.

The beauty of this nation lies with its people’s capacity to understand the need for reform. I beg the people to hear me. We, the people, need reform. Before we lose the right.

Antonio Espinoza is a veteran and chairman of the La Plata County Lived Experience Advisory Board. He lives in Durango.