DENVER -- Following continued protests and student walkouts in response to excessive force cases from Missouri to New York, Michael Hancock, the city's second African-American mayor, plans to lead a larger conversation about policing, justice and race relations.
Hancock, who was in Panama last week when high school students took part in massive walkouts in response to a Ferguson, Mo. grand jury deciding last month not to indict a white police officer, praised the community for its peaceful protests to this point and said that the time is right to engage in a broader conversation.
Addressing students who walked out of class over the past several days, Hancock said he was "proud of you" for deciding to speak up, but said it was time for students to focus on school.
"The best place for you to be is in your classroom," Hancock said. "Go back to the classroom. Finish the semester strong."
Hancock will lead a focused discussion with community leaders and youth on Friday, Dec. 19 and plans to organize additional community meetings will take place around the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
The discussions will work to develop goals that the community as a whole can achieve in order to improve relations between law enforcement and the community.
Both students and selected stakeholders will be invited to the Dec. 19 event that will hopefully be "bold and open," Hancock said.
Following violent unrest in Ferguson after the non-indictment of former Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of the unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, protests have continued in major U.S. cities since last week following a Staten Island, New York grand jury decision not to indict another white officer, Daniel Pantaleo, who used a fatal choke-hold in the death of another black man, Eric Garner.
Both cases have shed new light on the general reluctance by prosecutors to charge police officers, with whom their offices work closely, in excessive force cases and on how police practices may be applied differently to different communities.
In Denver, one police officer was critically injured last week when he and three other bicycle officers were hit by a car as they tried to make sure that East High School students participating in a walkout along Colfax Avenue stayed safe.
Walkouts also happened on Thursday and Friday. Friday's walksouts in Aurora involved hundreds of students from several high schools.
Hancock addressed students who have participated in the walkouts saying, "As someone who understands the importance of activating community engagement around critical issues, I am proud of the way you have stepped out to have your voices heard. We have heard you, and now I must say to you that the best place for you to be is in your classroom to finish the semester strong."
Hancock said students should participate in the community discussions.
He also urged parents to talk with their kids and urge them to stay in school.