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Inspired By Protests, Carbondale Mayor Dan Richardson Looks To Build A More Equitable Community

Jul 29, 2020

Protesters march in Carbondale on June 6, 2020 in solidarity with Black Lives Matter after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis Memorial Day weekend.
Credit Kirsten Dobroth / Aspen Public Radio

The killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers Memorial Day weekend sparked protests around the country, including in the Roaring Fork Valley. Dan Richardson, the mayor of Carbondale, said those events inspired him to explore racism in the town and find ways to build a more equitable Carbondale. 

In the middle of July, Richardson wrote a guest opinion column in the Sopris Sun titled, "It's Not Enough To Not Be Racist." He said he went on a journey of research and self-reflection, coming to the conclusion that he supported racism by not being actively against it. Richardson talked with Aspen Public Radio about his findings and how he hopes to use them to inform policy. 

How did you exactly support racism in the past?

Two things come to mind. The most obvious one that I alluded to [in the guest column] is just simply not being actively opposed to racism. I know I've heard racial slurs or I've been involved in a situation where, by me not saying something about it, I'm essentially being complicit. And so that's an easy way. I bet most of us probably fall into that category.

But also when I first heard about the killings [of George Floyd and Elijah McClain], when I heard about the protests, and then I had citizens asking, ‘Hey, Dan, look at Carbondale's policing policy,’ I have to admit that I really felt like, ‘Wow, I don't think there's not much work to be done here.’ Assuming that the problem really isn't that big a deal, especially in the Roaring Fork Valley, again, I become part of the problem. I'm a person of power, not only because I'm a white male, but because I'm mayor. Not doing anything about it is being part of the problem, in my opinion.

Do you think Carbondale and the Roaring Fork Valley has a racism problem that we need to address? 

Yes.

Why is that?

I know that I have not seen it as clearly as I should, or as it exists, and I know there are many out there like me. I've also had enough conversations since this column published, people saying, yeah, here's my example, here's my story. So I just think it's a perspective that we just have a hard time accepting that we have some bias here in the Roaring Fork Valley.

What do you want to see done beyond reviewing policies in Carbondale in light of you wanting to explore racism after these events?

That is a tough question to answer, and I'm not sure I know what I want to see done. Another purpose of this guest column was for me to recognize that I don't really know what to do next, and I'm looking for stories and for guidance to help inform that.

What I do know is that the most complicated challenges that we face as a society are just that, are complicated. We tend to focus on maybe it's the most obvious or maybe it's the most significant problem, but that isn’t everything. The problem really is everywhere. It's not just police brutality where we've seen it before. And so what I don't want to happen is for us to look at Carbondale's policing policies and say that we're doing pretty well already and then walk away and say our work here is done.

How will you put your words into action? Are there any policy changes you want to see? Are there new policies that can be made or will be made from the town of Carbondale?

Again, I'm not really sure. I guess to answer your question directly, I need to put on a racism lens all the time. I need to have that lens on all the time so that I can start challenging my assumptions of whether or not there's racial bias in this policy or in this program or how we handle this issue. So to me, that's probably the most important thing. And I'm hoping that there's a little bit more willingness to dig a little bit deeper so that we can do that.