By Brooke Harrison, PhD and Leslie Chandler, Safer Boulder members
Who is Safer Boulder? Safer Boulder is a nonpartisan grass-roots organization committed to supporting public safety and seeking innovative solutions, rather than reactionary policies, to address upstream factors of health, safety, and security.
This is how we, the members and supporters of Safer Boulder, define Safer Boulder. However, an article was published in the Boulder Weekly (“Who is Safer Boulder,” 9/30/21) allowing an anonymous blogger, Safer Leaks (Leaks), to define us based on cherry-picked comments from a private social media app. This blogger had no interest in digging deep to investigate and understand the backstories, perceptions, or priorities of anyone in the chat. This blogger had the sole intention of smearing individuals to generate fear and silence those who disagree with the blogger’s personal agenda.
The blog-based article was built around the premise that Safer Boulder is a “shadowy group” because: 1) leaders are not named on saferboulderco.org and 2) some members were reluctant to publish letters in local papers using their names. To the first point, Safer Boulder has not historically had a formal leadership structure. We are not a registered nonprofit and have no mandate for a leadership structure. The leaders change with each shift in direction. However, the group is growing quickly and may now need defined leadership.
To the second point, many members were fearful of putting their names out publicly due to doxxing and cancelation. We have seen what happens to members of our community when they speak out against crime at city council meetings. We have seen the speaker’s personal information shared on social media as revenge for sharing their experiences. Business owners victimized by theft and harassment are afraid to speak out for fear of retribution. Even before the doxxing that followed Leaks, we faced a culture of fear and cancelation in Boulder.
Perhaps the positive side effect of Leaks was that we are no longer afraid. Leaks emboldened people to speak out more, not less.
When reading the Boulder Weekly article, one must ask: Why would a group create a social platform, admit almost anyone who expressed interest in the organization, and then all use their full names if they were a shadowy, secretive group? The answer is they would not. Safer Boulder is not shadowy.
The only shadowy character in this story is the blogger. The still anonymous individual was admitted to the group after expressing support and offering to volunteer. Once admitted, they used a fake name and an AI-generated avatar. Moreover, the claim that the Leaks blog didn’t dox is incorrect. The blog profiled several individuals, along with some non-members, and included personal information such as business names, employer names, and volunteer positions.
Almost anyone expressing an interest was admitted to the Slack group. With no vetting process, the individual views expressed can’t be extrapolated to represent Safer Boulder as an organization. Slack was not used to determine group priorities or actions. All planning occurred during in-person meetings. While rules of decorum should have been enforced, many of the leaked posts serve as a window into the fears and frustrations of our community, expressed hyperbolically, to assumed sympathetic ears. Some of the statements were abhorrent and we condemned them. Leaders within Safer Boulder pushed back privately when the conversation degraded, which was minimized in the article.
In the spirit of transparency, I offer a brief history of Safer Boulder. The group formed around 2015 when victims of crime in Boulder began meeting to discuss safety issues. The group grew, and in 2019, the dismissal of safety concerns by city council candidates catalyzed us to act. Some of us began meeting to investigate complex safety issues and city policies. We met with city staff from multiple departments, nonprofit providers, business owners, and residents. We prepared briefing books for city council members with our research, testimony from victims, and conclusions. Though many council members were receptive, the general consensus was, “there is little we can do,” and that we should “talk to the police.” However, when 2020 brought a crisis point for safety, the police communicated, “we do not have the political support in this town to enforce the law.”
In response, we created a petition calling on our leaders to listen to public concerns and protect our community. In tandem, we launched a flyering campaign. Our petition gathered more than 9,000 signatures. As crime and safety became a more prominent topic during city council meetings, a slide outlining the requests from our petition was presented at a city council study session.
The new public attention likely incentivized the Leaks blogger to focus on Safer Boulder. However, we were undeterred and soon after launched a letter writing campaign to call for a no vote on SB21-062 (a measure to reduce jail populations) unless significantly amended.
This brings us to today. With an upcoming election, we must focus on the issues. People do not feel safe in the business districts, on the bike paths, or in our parks. People are living in encampments plagued by violence, human feces, stolen goods, needles, and drugs. We have to face the reality of a raging addiction crisis that has grown beyond opioids to include methamphetamines. All of this is compounded by inadequate mental health support across the state, if not the nation.
Safer Boulder supports the camping ban, resources for our police, and non-police intervention teams. We also support programs that keep people housed and address income inequality, as well as Housing First. As a state, we need more mental health and addiction treatment options that are available to everyone (additional detail on saferboulderco.org).
Though these are the priorities of Safer Boulder, individual members may disagree. Some members support aspects of the Defund the Police movement. Other members do not agree with Housing First. Safer Boulder will not silence our members. Only through open discussion can we grow and evolve.
Going forward, Safer Boulder will continue to engage in the civic process to make Boulder a safe and welcoming place for all.
—This guest op-ed does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.