Masks on and signs up: The faces of a national movement in Colorado’s conservative city

Hundreds of protesters march in front of General William Jackson Palmer statue in downtown Colorado Springs, on June 11, 2020. (Nick Penzel for PULP)

COVID-19 is causing a disconnect, making the Black Lives Matter protesters almost faceless in the crowd across America. The rallies and protests that have taken over traditional and social media will gain a historic perspective one day when historians look back, and the mask will be a sign of the summer of COVID-19.

What has been lost in the sea of people risking their health to take a stand for social justice is the ability to see their fight, pain, and struggle. Although the initial catalyst for the protest was the killing of George Floyd, the high profile officer-involved shootings of De’Von Bailey, Joshua Vigil, and Desmond Hayes, as well as others, have made this a personal issue for many Colorado Springs citizens.

Behind the masks there are people who before George Floyd’s death weren’t involved in Black Lives Matter or activism, but felt compelled to become involved. Some want justice and closure for lost loved ones and some want to use this movement to amplify their voices to see systematic change, but for protestors, their ultimate goal is to create a more just Colorado Springs.

Derrick “Wavvy” Matthews – The Musician

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Derrick “Wavvy” Matthews chants during a June 11, 2020 march to the Colorado Springs Police Department. (Nick Penzel for PULP)

“I got involved when Goerge Floyd happened because I felt this call to action. I came here as a participant…I didn’t know what to do or where to go or what direction I was going to go in,” said Derrick “Wavvy” Matthews. He has certainly found his direction though, as he’s become one of the most predominant voices at the protests.

Matthews, who is a musician and rapper, didn’t intend to become a leader of the movement. Rather, he spoke his truth and saw ways to make action, so he naturally fell into the role. “I don’t consider myself to be a leader or an organizer, I just feel like I’m a strong voice out of many,” said Matthews.

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Matthews takes a moment away from the talking to other activists and protestors to speak about the recent win his group had in city council. (Nick Penzel for PULP)

Matthews and others have just helped to push a citizen advisory council for the police through city hall, but there’s always more to do.  “This is the most fulfilling work that I’ve ever done in my entire life…I just want to be down here with the people and make moves and connect.”

Crystina Page, Stefani Vigil – The Lost Family

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Crystina Page (front) and Stefani Vigil (back) during a Black Lives Matter march on June 11, 2020. Vigil’s husband, Joshua Vigil, was killed by police in 2019. Both women carry the ashes of their loved ones with them as they march. Page’s son, who was autistic, believes CSPD didn’t do enough to de-escalate the situation after he became distraught destroying his grandmother’s house. (Nick Penzel for PULP)

Since her son was killed in 2019, Crystina Page has started a nonprofit, the Marley Foundation, to speak out about police brutality and particularly how police handle people in crisis. She’s also actively involved in creating a support network for those who lost loved ones at the hands of police. That’s how she met Couch. She says that after her son was killed it felt like she lost her family. However, Page, and others have been able to find comfort in a network of people who have similar experiences.

David Page, who was autistic and had just found out his son had been still born, became distraught and began to destroy his grandmother’s house, where he was living. Throughout the day, Monument Police Corporal R. Stewart had been in contact with David Page. But when David began firing a BB gun at traffic the situation escalated and SWAT was called. The situation culminated in David being shot inside his house. Crystina doesn’t necessarily fault the SWAT officers who fired the shots, rather she calls issue with Corporal Stewart, who she believes failed to convey proper information to SWAT–mainly that David was alone and in crisis, armed with a BB gun, and that Stewart had been in contact with him as well as with Crystina Page. According to Page, in the body camera footage from the hostage negotiator, Corporal Steward can be heard saying, “this kid is psycho, let’s dirt him.”

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Stefani Vigil and Crystina Page have become close and refer to each other as family. Here, they stand in Monterey Park, where the confrontation that would end with Joshua Vigil being shot began. (Nick Penzel for PULP)

For Stefani Vigil, the Black Lives Matter protest is a way to give her story a voice and honor her late husband Joshua Vigil. Joshua Vigil was confronted by police in Monterey Park in Colorado Springs and fled the scene. After his car was wrecked police confronted the armed Vigil in a nearby building. CSPD officer Lucas Aragon fired the first shots and two other officers then opened fire, according to the report released by the DA. Before Vigil was killed Aragon was responding to an unrelated call and can be heard saying “Let’s just go help, so if we can shoot this dude,” on his body camera. While the DA report notes these remarks to be “troubling,” no charges were filed. Seven months later Lucas Aragon killed Desmond Hayes, Jazzmin Couch’s boyfriend. 

For Vigil’s family, they are still trying to understand and move past the trauma of having a loved one killed by the police. While Vigil was armed with a handgun, his family contends his hands were raised when police began to shoot. They also point out that Joshua Vigil was diagnosed bipolar with schizophrenic tendencies and was in a state of extreme mental distress. For them, they can’t understand why the police handled the situation with escalation when dispatch told them Vigil was in crisis. Page and Vigil say that the way the police handled the situation afterwards was also extremely traumatic. Both women were detained and not told about the killings for hours and say police still regularly interact with them in an emotionally harmful way.

Jazzmin Couch, The Young Mother

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Jazzmin Couch gestures to her son as she stands in front of the Colorado Springs Police Department (CSPD) and speaks about how police have impacted her and her sons. Couch was one of many who spoke at a march to honor those killed by CSPD on June 11, 2020. Couch’s boyfriend, Desmond Hayes, was killed by off duty CSPD officer Lucas Aragon in February 2020. (NIck Penzel)

Jazzmin Couch is a single mom of two sons and works as a caretaker for the elderly. As someone who lost a loved one, the protests and the Black Lives Matter movement touch home.

Desmond Hayes allegedly approached off duty officer Lucas Aragon in a Carl’s Jr. Parking lot. According to Statements made by Aragon, Hayes told him he had a gun and was going to rob him. It was at this point that Aragon opened fire. Couch contends that Hayes was unarmed and was shot 10 times.

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Jazzmin Couch walks with her eldest son just outside of her house in southeast Colorado Springs. Her son is completely transformed from the terrified boy who accompanied his mother to the CSPD headquarters to protest. (Nick Penzel for PULP)

Jazzmin says her eldest son used to want to be a police officer, but after the death of Hayes, who was like a father to Jazzmin’s children, he’s now terrified of police. Standing outside the police station, Jazzmin’s son is stock still and looks petrified. However, away from the police, he runs around his mother and laughs while playing with other kids in the neighborhood.

“He’s terrified, they [the police] don’t understand what they’re doing to the whole family,” Said Couch.

Larry Black – The Brother

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Larry Black walks in a march from Centennial Park to City Hall on June 13th, 2020. The march, which shut down the streets of downtown Colorado Springs, came after 15 days of protests. The organizers of the protests say they will be there as long as it takes for the city council to enact change. (Nick Penzel for PULP)

“I’m personally out here for my brother. My 15 year old brother…I’m tired of asking him to make sure you have one headphone out or make sure you don’t wear your hoodie inside of a store,” said Larry Black.

Black, who has spoken in front of protestors multiple times, says even after everything he still wants to be a cop, an ambition he has harbored since childhood. “I still want to be a cop but I refuse to work under any system that operates this way…I can’t give myself to a system that’s not even trying to improve.”

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Larry Black walks through downtown Colorado Springs on his way towards city hall and the Black Lives Matter protest. (Nick Penzel for PULP)

“Your opinion does not overrule fact. The fact is that black people are dying for no reason. Black people are treated differently when police encounter them…no matter what your opinion is you can’t change what someone has lived through,” said Black.

So Black protests and advocates for community change. He’s involved in starting a nonprofit to get better community centers and more resources for people in crisis. He hopes that maybe once Colorado Springs Police see the reform he and the Black Live Matter movement demand he may be able to fulfill his ambition and become a police officer.

Charles Johnson – The Friend

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Charles Johnson Leads (yellow vest) a chant at a march through downtown on June 13th, 2020. Born and raised in southeastern Colorado Springs, Johnson says he’s seen how his community hasn’t been given the resources of other areas. He sees this as one of the reasons why the community has struggled so much with its relationship with CSPD. (Nick Penzel for PULP)

On August 3, 2020 De’Von Bailey was shot in the back by CSPD Sergeant Alan Van’t Land and officer Blake Evenson as he fled from them. Although he was armed, many took issue with the officers actions, as Bailey’s gun was tucked into his pants and not visible as he fled.

“Lethal force shouldn’t have been used. It shouldn’t be the first option,” said Charles in regard to how Bailey was killed.

For Charles Johnson, who grew up alongside Bailey, the Black Lives Matter movement provides a way to seek justice for Bailey and advocate for a change in his community. “It feels good to represent your own city where you grew up and where people have died by gun violence and police brutality,” said Johnson.

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Johnson heads towards city hall to help with a Black Lives Matter barbeque on the lawn. Since the protests began, the movement has had a presence outside of the building, ranging from several people to hundreds. (Nick Penzel for PULP)

Johnson doesn’t see activism as the only way he can help affect change. He’s involved in starting a nonprofit called Move, which he hopes can help with outreach in his community and provide resources and improve education.

While Johnson sees the progress made so far as beneficial, he still thinks there’s a long way to go. “We kinda have to fear for ourselves everytime we walk out the door. I want an equal opportunity for us to live life where we feel we don’t have to have restrictions against us.”

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