WATCH: Black Lives Matter rally attracts hundreds in Vail
VAIL — On Saturday, a demonstration against police brutality in the U.S. was held with a single person. The next day, 50 or more people had joined.
On Wednesday, nearly 500 people participated in a Black Lives Matter event in Vail Village.
Local law enforcement also participated in the event, taking a knee in silence to recognize George Floyd, who died May 25 after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin placed his knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes while arresting Floyd for suspicion of passing a counterfeit bill.
“We as the law enforcement community were shocked and appalled by the treatment of Mr. Floyd. It goes against all our training,” said Sheriff James van Beek in an interview Wednesday morning. “All of us view what happened as a criminal act. It was gross negligence at the very least.”
With national outrage over the incident spreading to the Vail Valley, van Beek said local law enforcement wants to capitalize on the long-standing relationships officers forged with community members.
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“We felt that we have worked very hard in this valley, as law enforcement, with community residents to really build bridges,” he said. “This incident really makes us all realize we haven’t come as far as we think we have. We need to continue to work.”
Organizer Carrie Unthank said she is very grateful for Eagle County law enforcement.
“We haven’t had issues with discrimination, and therefore I find it really important to stand with them for this cause, maintain that standard of accountability and mutual respect between us, and be an example,” she said.
Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger said he can’t recall a protest or demonstration in Vail that has attracted as many people as Wednesday’s.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “It’s great to see everybody out here being peaceful and respectful.”
Henninger said the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, brought the issue to light for him.
“As I tell our officers and have been telling them since Ferguson, the way we build trust is one contact at a time,” Henninger said Wednesday. “Each time we have an opportunity to talk with a citizen, no matter what color they are, or sexual orientation or anything, that’s our opportunity to build trust, and let people know that we’re different from maybe what their standard, typical idea of what a police officer is about.”
Sheriff van Beek and Eagle Police Chief Joe Stauffer took a knee to mourn Floyd during a moment of silence.
Vail local Zach Varon, who was the lone protester on Saturday, said as much as the event was an effort to bring attention to a cause, it was also a time for mourning. Varon said while Wednesday’s demonstration attracted hundreds of people, the cause it sought to draw attention to — ending police brutality — is not a cause or a premise that’s accepted by all.
“If everybody believed in our cause, we wouldn’t need to be here,” Varon said. “We’re here for a cause, and this is not a happy cause. This is a time for mourning and a time for doing our best to get through a difficult situation.”