If you’ve watched or attended a Lakewood City Council meeting, the name Anita Springsteen is one you wouldn’t likely forget.
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Lakewood Ward 3 City Councilor Anita Springsteen is known for often being at odds with Mayor Adam Paul, other council members and city staff, and for frequently criticizing power structures in the city.
In her defense, Springsteen said she is seen as controversial because she doesn’t pull any punches — something she said her lack of ambition to seek higher political office allows her to do.
Several times during regular Lakewood City Council meetings this year, Springsteen aired concerns about law enforcement tactics employed by Lakewood Police Department.
Some of those concerns arose from accusations that an unarmed Black man named Ameer Allen was roughed up by police during an arrest. Police had been called to Allen’s residence during an alleged altercation in February 2021 between Allen and a tow truck driver attempting to tow his vehicle. Allen was charged with assault, resisting arrest, harassment and obstructing a peace officer and was facing four years in jail.
After the incident occurred, Allen’s girlfriend’s 7-year-old daughter, who’d witnessed the arrest, told her school counselor about the experience and its traumatic effects. The counselor then wrote to City Council asking them to look into the matter.
“This really bothered me because at that time I was already in full swing on wanting to see justice reform issues addressed here in Lakewood,” Springsteen said. “(I was) hearing from various people during the course of my activism who felt like there was a lot of racial bias here in Lakewood.”
In the ensuing months, Allen called in to tell his story to council members during open comment periods of council meetings. Eventually, Springsteen said she sat down with Allen and his girlfriend, and after hearing more about his story, Springsteen said she was moved to offer him her services as a defense attorney. Allen was being charged with four criminal counts arising from the arrest.
“My concern was that Ameer didn’t qualify for a public defender even though it was in the middle of the pandemic, he was on unemployment and appearing in court without council,” she said.
She said she believed helping Allen was simply doing her job — for the city, its citizens and the police department. She said she was concerned with limiting the city’s liability, addressing problems and helping to find "bad apples" if indeed any existed, through handling the case.
So with no support staff and very little time or money to take on a pro-bono gig, Springsteen said she forged ahead with what she called a true David and Goliath situation.
“I didn’t want to be perceived to be at odds with the city or with the police department,” she said. “Because I appreciate and support the police departmen, but I feel it’s been difficult for me to break through and have the kind of meaningful communication with them that I’d hoped to have for the last two and a half years about things that need to be addressed and changed.”
Ultimately, a jury in the case found Allen not guilty of all charges April 22. Something Springsteen said, gave her a bit of an "Atticus Finch moment." She said the fact that a virtually all-white jury cleared a Black man of charges against police in Lakewood helped restore her faith in the justice system.
“They (the jury) could see the truth, and they did justice,” she said.
But beyond all of that, Springsteen said she hopes the outcome of the case will cause some change within the Lakewood Police Department.
“Whether they’re going to tell me or not, I know that this had to affect things behind the scenes where they have to have those difficult conversations,” she said, referencing things like racial bias training, deescalation techniques and more stringent internal affairs investigations, which she hopes to see implemented by the police department.
Communication, she said, also is key.
Known, she thinks, unfairly, for being a critic of law enforcement, Springsteen said she'd love to be able to sit down with Lakewood Police Chief Dan McCasky to talk about her concerns and those of her constituents. She said she also favors things like the city hiring more police officers of color and the creation of a citizens review board, allowing for more one-on-one conversations between residents of Lakewood and their police department.
Lakewood Poice Department has not said administrative or training changes have or will be made because of the outcome of the Allen case.
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