By Larry Hales
Published Jul 29, 2011 7:29 AM
“He looked right at me and said, ‘Babe, help me I’m dying.’” These were Alonzo Ashley’s last words to his companion, Elaina, words she said in tears to an interviewer for the Denver FOX News affiliate.
Ashley at the time was on the ground after a contact taser was used by Denver Police to subdue him, leading him to convulse and then become unconscious.
The incident occurred at the Denver Zoo July 18, where, according to Ashley’s family, he had gone three times in one week. Zoo officials said one of their staff had seen Ashley passed out near the elephant exhibit. When zoo security responded, Ashley was drinking from a water fountain and wetting his head. Elaina says that earlier he had vomited.
Ashley asked the zoo security to go away several times, but instead of leaving the couple alone or calling for medical help for someone exhibiting signs of a heat-related illness, zoo security called the Denver police.
Eighteen police cars showed up on the scene, and the end result was another young Black man, 29-year-old Ashley, killed.
Extreme high temperatures starting in the mid-90s and in many instances exceeding the 100-degree mark have lasted for weeks throughout the U.S. Dozens, mainly in the Midwest, have died due to heat-related illness. According to Elaina, Ashley was suffering from heat stroke, with symptoms that include restlessness, anxiety, vomiting, unconsciousness and heavy sweating.
Since Ashley’s death, both zoo and the police officials have gone on the offensive to try to depict the victim as unruly and drug addicted.
The Denver Zoo is claiming that Ashley began saying to the staff that he was a “lion” and that when security was calling the police he attacked them. Sonny Jackson, Denver Police Department spokesperson, says Ashley was acting irrationally and that when police tried to subdue him, he had “extraordinary strength.”
Denver Police stated that they were only called because of a domestic dispute, which contradicts the zoo officials’ account. Elaina says there was no domestic dispute.
This is the second time in a year that the claim of “extraordinary strength” was used as an excuse for the police agency to act violently. Marvin Booker, a 53-year-old homeless Black male, a street preacher who weighed only 135 pounds, was tased and pinned down by five sheriff’s deputies in the Denver County Jail because they would not let him retrieve his shoes. Booker died, and the sheriff’s deputies were cleared of any wrongdoing.
The brutality or death of a person of color at the hands of a police agency in the Colorado Front Range, which includes Denver, Aurora, Colorado Springs, Greeley and seven other localities, is nothing new. Statewide victims of police brutality over the past 10 years include Paul Childs, Frank Lobato, Greg Smith, Harrison Owens, Jamaal Bonner, Michael DeHerrera, Shawn Johnson, Marvin Booker, Cassidy Rice and Loree McCormick Rice.
Add Alonzo Ashley to the list. His only crime was that he chose to go to the zoo while Black, suffered from a heat-related illness, and tried to cool himself off.
His family now fights for justice and to defend him from the police allegations, and his companion is left to miss her “best friend and lover.”