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Denver Police Department Chief Robert White addresses officers during what was meant to be a community conversation with youth from the Latino and  LGBTQ communities.
Danika Worthington
Denver Police Department Chief Robert White addresses officers during what was meant to be a community conversation with youth from the Latino and LGBTQ communities.
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Denver police officers planned to have a long conversation with youth from the Latino and LGBTQ communities Saturday as part of a settlement with Jessica Hernandez’s family but had to adjust plans when young people didn’t show.

Organizers said they’ll continue to pursue ways to reach young folk, meeting them where they’re at to create a better, more trusting relationship.

“It’s supposed to be a two-way conversation,” said Robert White, chief of the Denver Police Department, while addressing the little more than a dozen officers who attended the meeting at Morey Middle School. “Obviously, that’s not going to happen. It’s not going to happen here. It’s not going to happen today.”

The death of a young Latina, LGBTQ girl made national news in January 2015 at a time when minorities were protesting unarmed police killings in other cities, such as Ferguson, Mo. The city reached a $1 million settlement with 17-year-old Jessica Hernandez’s family in April, which included a requirement for the police to host a community meeting focused on justice in the Latino and LGBTQ community.

Although police weren’t able to get young people to come, the officers present participated in implicit-bias training and heard from a corrections consultant who had transitioned from male to female while working as a lieutenant in the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office.

The police department reached out to the Agency for Human Rights and Community Partnerships to help set up the event. Anthony Aragon, a senior advisor there, said he worked with Jessica Hernandez’s family to create the program for the day.

The city partnered with community groups, such as the GLBT Community Center’s Rainbow Alley, Urban Peak and Servicios De La Raza, hoping they could spread the word to young people. Aragon suspected people didn’t show because of a lack of trust and potential barriers, such as transportation, daily life or other priorities.

“The challenging aspect of anything is the young people,” he said. “Will they come?”

Although the event was required by the settlement, Aragon said he didn’t want to just check a box. So the city will keep trying to reach out to the community, scheduling a time for officers to meet with youth at Rainbow Alley. If there’s interest in more events like this, they’ll keep throwing them, he said.

Jessica Hernandez’s parents, Laura Sonia Rosales and Jose Hernandez, stopped by the event, bringing along one of the girl’s younger siblings, 6-year-old Kevin.

“We’re disappointed that the youth aren’t here but we recognize there’s still a lot of value in this exercise,” said Arash Jahanian, who was one of the lawyers representing the family during the settlement.

Rosales, who spoke in Spanish, which Jahanian translated, said there is still tension between the police and the Latino and LGBTQ communities. She said they can’t change the world, noting that there will be people who don’t like others who are different from them. Jose Hernandez agreed but added that if there’s something that can be done to bring a little peace to the community, they should do it.

“It’ll be a better world if the police would work with all of the community,” Rosales said in Spanish.

Jose Hernandez said a lot of feelings were resurfacing, amplified by Jessica Hernandez’s birthday on Nov. 25.

Jahanian read some of Jessica Hernandez’s poetry to the officers. Rosales said it was beautiful listening to her daughter’s words, adding that it’s important that Jessica Hernandez — or Jessie as the family calls her — not be forgotten.

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