AURORA | A crowd of more than 30 people gathered at an intersection near the Aurora Municipal Center on Wednesday to protest last week’s shooting death of an unarmed black man at the hands of police and demand details about the shooting.
The crowd, which included Naeschylus Vinzant’s children and his family, demanded to know why he was killed last Friday near East 12th Avenue and Laredo Street.
“We want to know why, that’s all we want to know,” Lenicia Mills, who has three children with Vinzant, told the crowd gathered at East Alameda Avenue and South Sable Boulevard.
An Aurora police officer last Friday shot and killed Vinzant. Police said Monday that Vinzant, who was wanted on kidnapping, robbery and parole violation charges, was unarmed when he was shot. Police have declined to release further details about what lead the officer to shoot Vinzant, citing the ongoing investigation.
Media reports say that the officer will make a public statement some time Thursday. Police have not confirmed details about that.
Leeoundra Butler, Vinzant’s sister in law, said Vinzant’s criminal past shouldn’t matter, especially considering police haven’t released any details about the history of the officer who killed him.
“It’s not about his past, his criminal background because at the end of the day he was still a person,” she said.
Shareef Aleem, the organizer behind Wednesday’s protest and a longtime critic of Aurora police, said Vinzant’s shooting has angered people in part because it stands in stark contrast to the arrest of accused Aurora theater shooter James Holmes, who despite killing 12, wounding dozens more and being heavily armed, was taken into police custody without incident.
“And this individual is laying dead,” he said of the unarmed Vinzant.
A. Jackson, 27, of Denver, said she knew Vinzant briefly and was a godmother to his children.
Fighting back tears, Jackson, who asked to only give her first initial, said his death was just the latest in a string of unnecessary deaths of unarmed black men in this country at the hands of police.
“It’s unfair all the way around. How do you explain that to his kids?” She said.
She said she was especially frustrated with the slow pace of information from police.
“They don’t want the truth to be told of what really happened,” she said.
She said the community’s anger will only grow if police don’t release more information.
“When you hide the information, what does that lead to? Raging in frustration,” she said.
Aurora’s new Police Chief Nick Metz, who took the helm just last week, said Wednesday afternoon he understands the frustration from those who want the department to release more information.
But, Metz said, the department was still waiting on a statement from the officer involved as of Wednesday morning.
“That is kind of that puzzle piece that will help put everything together,” Metz said.
The officer, who has obtained a lawyer, has not been identified.
Metz said that without the officer’s side of what happened that afternoon, the department doesn’t have the necessary information to release further details.
“Once we have that we will have a better idea what really went on,” he said.
Metz stressed again Wednesday that he was completely confident in the way officers are handling the case. He said when he arrived at the scene that afternoon, he found a crime scene that was under complete control and detectives asking all the right questions.
Metz said the uproar last year in Ferguson, Missouri, is definitely on his mind as he goes forward with this case.
“I think any chief who is dealing with this goes right back to what happened there,” he said.
Metz said he didn’t want to criticize another department, but he said there are lessons to be learned from Ferguson.
“Everybody recognizes that there are certain things you do and you don’t do,” he said. “And there are certain things you do that are going to inflame a situation more than you have to.”
Another protest is set for 5 p.m. Thursday at the Aurora Municipal Center, 15151 E. Alameda Parkway.