By Gaius Iskra and Ryan Stitzel |
August 28, 2023
Denver, CO – Family, friends and community supporters of Stephan Long rallied at the office of Denver District Attorney Beth McCann on Thursday, August 24 to demand his immediate release. This action follows a week of calls and emails to McCann’s office and a day before Long was scheduled to appear in court.
Stephan Long is charged with two counts of first degree murder for defending himself from violent attackers on Interstate 25 this June. With his family behind him in the car, Long was attacked by two men in ski masks who entered his car and, according to multiple eyewitnesses, began beating and choking him. Long, a Black man, legally defended himself against these two white assailants, using a registered firearm that he was licensed to carry. The charges against him are unjust and highlight the stark differences in how the law is applied to Black and white citizens of the city.
A crowd of 50 gathered in the sweltering heat outside of DA McCann’s office to demand Long’s freedom in person. They carried signs that said “Self defense is not a crime” and wore shirts that identified their support for Long. Just before the speakers began, Beth McCann herself came down from her office to witness the event. She exchanged pleasantries with Long’s family and even agreed to meet with them inside but, ultimately, offered no guarantees that she would reconsider the charges set by her office or the million-dollar bail that’s forcing Long to remain behind bars for the entirety of his trial process.
Long, who is 26-years-old, is described by many in the crowd as a “family man” who works hard to provide a good life for his wife and two young children. The youngest of those children, his son, is less than a year old. Long’s incarceration robs his family of a father and husband’s care while also robbing him of the irreplaceable experience of being present for a critical period of his childrens’ development. As Alexander Landau of the Denver Justice project put it, “You can’t give back time.”
This case shines a light on McCann’s and other local district attorneys’ racist discrimination in their application of the law. McCann, just a few months ago, refused to press charges against a white vigilante who murdered 12-year-old Elias Armstrong after tracking him from across the city. Similarly, neighboring Jefferson County DA Alexis King has thus far refused to press charges against Adam Fresquez’s killer, who used an unlicensed and unregistered firearm to shoot Fresquez twice in the back.
The Colorado legal system has a long history of practically deputizing white vigilantes to terrorize oppressed nationality communities and it’s clear that McCann and King are happy to continue that legacy. Meanwhile, self defense and Stand Your Ground laws are clearly not applicable in Black and brown communities.
Long’s mother, Stephanie Clifton, made her thoughts clear on the subject, saying, “If the races were reversed in this story, if my son was white and two non-white men attacked him, he likely would not be in jail. He might not have even been arrested.”
This disparity in how the city’s laws are applied on racial and national lines is what brought local activist groups like The Denver-Aurora Community Action Committee and the Denver Justice Project to work alongside the family to organize the week of action for Long. “What’s really frustrating is the differences in how laws are upheld in this state,” said Brandon Gehrke-Quintanilla, a representative from DACAC. “How is it that when a white man shoots someone in the back twice he’s let go while Stephan is facing murder charges for defending himself?”
These groups have been undertaking the task of reshaping and re-imagining policing in the Denver metro area and they see Long as a primary example of why such changes are necessary. “We’re here to build a movement so that things like this never have to happen again. So that the community has control over the police and over the legal system,” said Gehrke-Quintanilla.
The following day, Friday August 25, a similarly sized group supported Long by attending the preliminary hearing of his trial. The family of Long’s assailants also attended the trial along with nearly a dozen Denver Sheriffs. Unfortunately, the hearing was rescheduled for October 18, ensuring nearly two more months of incarceration should the DA continue to refuse a bail reduction.
The family of Long’s attackers were escorted to their vehicles by a security detail of Denver Sheriffs while Long’s family was harassed, herded about the building like cattle, and told they had to stand outside in the rain with their elderly and children while they waited for other family members to finish a meeting with their attorney.
”What we are here to do today is show Long that solidarity exists even when an attempt to erase you from the community is afoot,” Alexander Landau said in his Thursday speech. “Solidarity until the end. We will be here today. We will be here in court with you. We will not go away.”