City Attorneys Discuss Denver’s Response to Pandemic and Civil Unrest
Government lawyers say city applied “equity lens” to decisions on masks, testing sites and curfews

by Jessica Folker
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Attorneys from the Denver City Attorney’s Office on Oct. 27 discussed the city’s response to the pandemic and widespread protests in the wake of the George Floyd killing — from curfews to COVID testing sites to mask orders — and their efforts to apply an “equity lens” when making legal decisions.

The talk, “Tackling Racial Bias in the Midst of a Global Pandemic,” was the second in the University of Colorado Law School’s “Race and the Law” series, which is part of the law school’s new anti-racism initiative led by Dean James Anaya.

Denver City Attorney Kristin Bronson kicked off the presentation by explaining that, under the Denver City Charter, the City Attorney’s Office is tasked with advising on every legal aspect of every decision made within the city, whether by the mayor, City Council or any of the city’s departments, agencies, boards and commissions.

Bronson said that “race was an issue from the outset” of the pandemic, as there was racism and xenophobia against Asians and Asian-Americans as the virus spread from China to the rest of the world. COVID-19 has also disproportionately affected communities of color, she added, further burdening communities already hit hard by systemic racism, discrimination and lack of access to health care.

“If we did not recognize that race played a role in absolutely everything that we were doing — if we failed to take equity into account — we risked making this yet another moment in history where we would be exacerbating racial disparities or furthering the equity gap,” Bronson said.

“Our challenge really was to navigate the legal waters as we were putting unprecedented restrictions on people’s lives: how they move, how they work, how they socialize, how they work and worship,” she said. “We faced imposing face-covering orders, restrictions on movement and travel curfews. And we needed to do all of this through an equity lens.”

This article appeared in the Nov. 2 issue of Law Week Colorado. To read other articles from that issue, order a copy online. Subscribers can request a digital PDF of the issue.