EATON — While several hundred people were focused on supporting law enforcement in Eaton at a Back the Blue rally recently, one former law enforcement officer took the time to sit with a small handful of young anti-police counter protestors that showed up to support the Black Lives Matter movement.
Long-time Greeley Resident Brian Spencer had gone to the event in Eaton on July 25 like he had previous rallies in Greeley, Evans and at the Weld County Sheriff’s Office to show support for the men and women who put their lives on the line every day to protect and serve their communities, he said.
However, about halfway through the rally, he noticed a small group of teenagers standing in a grassy area on the south side of the street where just moments earlier, an Eaton man assaulted ralliers, driving his SUV over the curb, through the park and back onto the street.
They were holding signs that said things such as “no life matters until black lives matter” and “there is no such thing as a blue life.”
Spencer said he’d later learn the teens had been there the entire time, but after the SUV drove through the park, tensions were high among everyone at the scene, and that was when he noticed a group of young, adult men take off for the group and begin to confront them in the park.
“They were pretty aggressive toward them,” Spencer said about the young men who confronted the teens. “They were getting pretty close. I just realized that these were a group of kids. They had just as much right to protest as we had the right to be there in support.”
Although Spencer, too, was frustrated by their message, he said he believed there was a better way to go about dealing with the opposing views rather than a confrontational one.
“I didn’t want someone to hurt them,” he said. “I just didn’t think that was the way it should be handled.”
Spencer knows firsthand what it is like to be a law enforcement officer involved in a confrontation with a suspect and have the arrest go badly. Only in Spencer’s case, he was the one who ended up on the wrong end of the arrest.
In 2015 while a deputy with the Weld County Sheriff’s Office, Spencer was attempting to take a suspect into custody who was acting erratically, when the suspect fought back, Spencer fell, hit his head on the corner of a table and suffered a closed head injury. The confrontation ended a decades-long career in law enforcement.
Spencer, who is also the retired Bent County Sheriff, started his career in Greeley as an animal control officer.
His injury that day forced him into early retirement at 51-years-old, but it didn’t change his love or support for policing, and that includes educating the public about the job of law enforcement officials.
The teenagers in Eaton, he said, were just there to protest something they really didn’t have all the information on, so he wanted to make sure they got it.
“I wanted to know what they thought they were representing and why they were there,” Spencer said. “And at first, they were a little resistant, but I kept reassuring them that nobody was going to hurt them.”
He said most of the conversation revolved around the same narrative that people read and see on television: more black people killed by white officers and police brutality, among other things.
He said they just all said they felt they needed to come and take a stance.
“I told them, ‘you’re right, and so long as you’re peaceful, I’m willing to help you maintain that right, just as I am the pro law enforcement folks.”
Spencer said he did warn them that when they choose to engage in protests, they are going to get confronted by the other side, and most are not going to react the way he did just because they are still minors.
“I told them these are supercharged emotions from both sides,” Spencer said about the other adults who were more aggressive with them.
Spencer said he addressed the topics of their signs, more specifically the one that claims blue lives don’t exist.
“I explained to the one girl, that I was a retired cop, and her sign hurt me because she was basically saying that my life didn’t matter,” he said.
Spencer said the teens told him the reason for the wording “blue lives don’t exist,” is because cops can take off their uniforms and no one knows they are a cop, whereas black people cannot change the color of their skin, which led to a discussion about the “thin blue line” and how it represents how police officers of all races and nationality are the line between peace and chaos — they are blue — and not just fallen officers, which is what the teens said they thought it meant.
“It’s being used that way,” Spencer said he explained to the teens. “But that’s not what it originated as.”
Spencer, who gave his business card to the teens and offered to meet with them at any time, added that although he may never know if his conversation changed any of their minds, a parent of one of the youths reached out to him later and thanked him for his time and willingness to have a conversation with the teens.
“Thank you for the way you handled yourself and for your service,” the message read in part. “I am so grateful for you. God bless you! The amount of courage it took for those young people to go out and protest does make me proud. We don’t see eye-to-eye on everything, but I am so grateful for the village around us that invests in our children … I am so grateful for your life and sacrifices and pray that my daughter will have a change of heart about her stance.”
Complete Colorado reached out to the parent through Spencer to talk but was turned down for an interview out of respect for their child’s privacy.
Spencer said overall, however, it made him feel good that he was able to at least give them enough information that they may choose to investigate more about the issue rather than just picking the side with the most attention.
“The majority of them were 16,” Spencer said. “I wanted to see if we had an opportunity to give them an impression of the officer’s side. That is what was most important to me.”