By Dennis Anderson
The Colorado Independent has moved from an online news agency to what is now called COlab — The Colorado News Collaborative. COlab is dedicated to assist rural newspapers with services such as training, story research and even writing stories for their publications. The Colorado Independent worked in cooperation with the Colorado Press Association and the Colorado Media Project to form COlab.
In its latest newsletter titled “Stonewalled,” Susan Greene describes its efforts to help the Kiowa County Independent’s effort to retrieve information from the Kiowa County Sheriff’s Department regarding the fatal shooting of Zach Gifford, 39. Gifford was a resident of tiny Brandon, Colorado, population 21. He was a passenger in a truck that Kiowa County’s Undersheriff Tracy Weisenhorn and Deputy Sheriff Quinten Stump used to conduct a traffic stop.
According to the newsletter, Gifford was a well known, well liked lifelong resident of the area who would mow needy community member’s lawns or tend to their gardens for no pay nor would stick around to receive their gratitude.
But something happened that day, April 9, 2020, that led to a fatal interaction with law enforcement. According to the report, the autopsy shows the 126 pound Gifford was roughed up, tasered and seemingly shot in the back. But as the local newspaper tries to report on the incident, they are receiving no cooperation. The Publisher Betsy Barnett and Editor Priscilla Waggoner hounded the law enforcement agency for more information including documentation that should be a matter of public record. Their efforts will continue until they can break the silence.
When I read this article, I thought, here is another police shooting. But as I weighed through the frustration of this and the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, which has led to the fatal shooting of two more during protests allegedly by 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, my thoughts went to Mesa County Sheriff’s Deputy Derek Geer.
Geer was killed when he answered a call in February 2016 regarding a man carrying a handgun and wearing a red bandana across his face. That man would be teenager Austin Holzer. When confronting Holzer and as Holzer pleaded with Geer to shoot him, Geer decided to use his taser.
Holzer was stunned but as soon as he could gain control, he fatally shot Geer three times in the face. Geer left behind a wife and two children.
Later that evening a post came across my Facebook feed from Geer’s widow, Kate Geer-Armsby accompanied by a screenshot of a television lead for the story of Geer’s funeral and his photo.
Here is the post:
“This right here is what happens when an officer decides to use less than lethal force!!!! Everyone needs to stop playing armchair judges hiding behind their keyboards spouting hatred towards police. If you don’t agree with me, please do me a favor and unfriend me right now. I don’t want to see your (bs) opinions on my screen. I became a widow and my kids lost their father because Derek used a taser instead of his gun.”
I recall a conversation in 2016 with a former head of the Alaska State Troopers after a fatal shooting of a man wielding a knife at neighbors and then the troopers. I asked him his thoughts on the incident. His response was and I’m paraphrasing from memory, “I don’t know all the details from that particular incident but it seems that today’s police officers are too quick to shoot. Maybe it’s just reported in the news more but it seems like it happens too often.”
As Geer-Armsby stated, it’s easy to judge when a video of a person being shot is consumed by your mind. It’s the image you see; the immediate reaction is, why?
There are more questions than answers to draw a conclusion for either side. Emotions are high and reactions are swift. With each incident the violence in the aftermath is escalating. A teenage boy in some circles is praised for using a rifle to protect businesses in Kenosha. A Facebook group elevated his interest to become a part of the militia that would guard Kenosha from rioters, looters or protesters. His life it seems is over, too.
We sit in judgement as we consume the stories in far away communities. It becomes about politics, race and more. At this point it’s pure madness.
When Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed in 1968, over 100 cities across the country turned to riots and violence to express their grief. One city, Indianapolis did not. That night Robert Kennedy was scheduled to speak at his campaign rally. He was told about the fate of Dr. King and wrote a speech for the crowd. A speech of empathy and one in which he reflected on the violence of his brother’s assassination. That speech was credited as the reason there were no riots in Indianapolis that night.
Then the next day in Cleveland he delivered one of the greatest speeches in history, “The mindless menace of violence.” Listen to it. After over fifty years, it still holds true.
I have one question. Where is our Bobby Kennedy?
“Whenever any American’s life is taken by another American unnecessarily — whether it is done in the name of the law or in the defiance of law, by one man or a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence — whenever we tear at the fabric of life which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, the whole nation is degraded.” — Robert Kennedy
Dennis Anderson is the publisher of the Delta County Independent. He can be reached at email@example.com