Urban Land Conservancy celebrates the achievements of our partnerships that create and preserve nonprofit facilities and affordable housing for communities.

ULC’s Monthly Partner Spotlight shines a light on partners that demonstrate the value of collaboration, furthering our mission to preserve, develop, steward, and manage permanently affordable housing and shared office space for nonprofits and mission-minded organizations in Metro Denver and surrounding communities.

Congratulations to our August 2020 Partner Spotlight of the Month: Denver Justice Project!

DJP

The Denver Justice Project (DJP) was established in 2015 when two activist groups, Racial Justice Task Force of Colorado Progressive Coalition and Policing the Police, saw the need to consolidate efforts to mobilize a community-led effort to recall former Denver District Attorney (DA) Mitchell Morrissey for his lack of prosecuting police officers who assaulted or murdered community members. DJP realized that through the Discipline Matrix, Denver police could be held accountable at levels congruent with the acts of misconduct, but the Denver District Attorney is a separate entity that conducts separate investigations, and whose authority remains largely unchecked. Although that particular effort in 2015 did not result in recalling the DA, the Denver Justice Project drew critical attention to the need for local and national district attorney reform. What emerged was a determined coalition of community members, poised to achieve meaningful and lasting improvement for the community by transforming the community’s relationship with law enforcement.

DJP’s mission is to work with historically marginalized communities to address systemic racism by transforming law enforcement and the structure of the criminal justice system through intersectional movement building, direct action, advocacy, and collaborative education. It aims to end mass incarceration and achieve racial justice. Although the organization is based in Denver, its mission and work has global relevance as cities across the country and world grapple with similar injustices.

Alex Landau, One of DJP's Founders
Alex Landau, One of DJP's Founders

Alexander Landau, one of DJP’s founders, understands police violence firsthand. After being brutalized to near death by Denver police over allegations of an illegal left turn, he successfully beat the criminal case against him and even received a civil settlement from the city. “After that, I became very active in my community and committed to racial justice for our members,” said Landau. “I was fortunate to understand the system and my rights but I know that that is not the case for all.”

The Denver Justice Project achieves its goals in several different ways. First, it works to build movements by directly working with people in communities that have higher instances of police violence and that have been directly impacted by the shortfalls of the criminal justice system. This includes working to confront the community’s district attorney, who has not upheld their duty to reprimand police violence. DJP uses the strengths already inherent in the community to build a team, and relies on volunteers to continue efforts.

DJP also utilizes direct action and advocacy, relying on relationships within communities to move policy in the right direction, whether that’s sending out a press release to engage the community on a certain policy issue or helping individuals navigate the criminal justice system. In fact, elected officials and policy makers often look to DJP on proposed policy changes for their opinion, given their expertise and leadership.

Elisabeth Epps. Photo credit: New York Times
Elisabeth Epps. Photo credit: New York Times

The Colorado Freedom Fund was one of DJP’s most effective campaigns. Centered around a revolving fund that pays “ransom” (i.e. post money bond/ pays cash bail) for people unable to afford the cost of buying their own freedom, the program grew to such importance that it is now run as its own entity by Elisabeth Epps, a former DJP employee.

“We work in schools located in communities disproportionately affected by police misconduct, performing “Know Your Rights” training to educate youth on how to best navigate interactions with law enforcement,” said Landau. “The first step is knowing that this process could expand beyond the interaction with police on the street, so how you handle this interaction will pave the road for future proceedings. Safety is our key component during these training sessions.”

One of DJP’s most recent accomplishments was its support in helping pass SB217, the Colorado Law Enforcement Integrity Act that ends qualified immunity, requires officers to intervene to stop excessive force, outlaws chokeholds and use of deadly force on someone fleeing police, and decertifies “bad” officers.

Additionally, Roshan Bliss, DJP’s co-chair, celebrated a success last month. Bliss shepherded a pilot program that diverts some 911 calls away from armed police officers to the Support Team Assisted Response (STAR). STAR consists of an unassuming van manned by a Denver Health paramedic and social worker from the Mental Health Center of Denver, both qualified mental health clinicians. As Landau put it, “Oftentimes the most appropriate response for situations involving behavior health disorders, substance use, and homelessness, is a social worker or behavioral health professional to help someone having an episode.”

The Support Team Assisted Response van. June 8, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
The Support Team Assisted Response van. June 8, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

STAR was launched in a strategic partnership with Paul Pazen, Denver Police Chief. “It’s a strategic partnership with the Denver police force to make sure we’re providing the community with real beneficial services instead of meeting situations with violence.” said Landau.

DJP has been a tenant at Urban Land Conservancy’s Mountain View Nonprofit Tower since 2017. “ULC has been the most flexible entity that has ever housed our operation,” said Landau. “You’ve given us support in our darkest times and are intertwined in the communities we also work in. Additionally, it’s been helpful for us to collaborate with the other tenants in the building as they also work with the communities most affected by criminal injustice.”

DJP has provided a crucial community service since its inception in 2015, and now more than ever with the world focusing on social and racial justice, their services will only grow. DJP relies on volunteer efforts and philanthropic donations and grassroots funding to keep their programs running. To learn more about their great work or if interested in making a donation, please click here.