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Are Black Lives Matter and law enforcement fundamentally at odds? Colorado police officer Alisha Zellner doesn’t believe so.
The 33-year-old Fort Collins officer recently completed her Bike Ride for Black Lives, riding more than 400 miles in the month of July to commemorate the 400+ years the Black community has been fighting for justice in America. That ride that she created was inspired after she rode in the Police Unity Tour, a ride from New Jersey to Washington, D.C.
On Sunday, Zellner participated in the Ride for Racial Justice in Boulder, Colorado, where she talked about being a Black police officer who is using cycling as a platform for visibility and social change.
“The term intersectionality talks about the way your identity meets in the different things that you do,” Zellner said. “For me, between being a woman, between being a police officer, between being Black, and between being white, all my identities come together at various points in my life. It can be complicated. It can be hard. It can be maddening. Sometimes it can feel like you are forced to choose when in reality you are all these things at one time, and you have to show up for each of those when it matters most.”
In response to the idea that the Black Lives Matter movement is on one side of an argument and police officers are on the other, Zellner disagrees.
“That is not true. That is just not true,” she said. “In my opinion, they need to come together. They need to work together. We are one community. You have to have the difficult conversations. You have to do the types of things we are doing right now. And you have to do it together, because we are better together.”
Zellner, who works for the Colorado State University Police Department in Fort Collins, created the Bike Ride for Black Lives to raise funds and awareness. She raised more than $6,800 for five organizations: Black Lives Matter, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Equal Justice Initiative, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the Civil Rights Museum.
On Sunday, Zellner participated in the Ride for Racial Justice in Boulder, which was organized by Marcus Robinson and Neal Henderson, and attended by the likes of former U.S. national champion Scott Berryman and Olympic medalists Davis Phinney and Connie Carpenter-Phinney, who now run the Davis Phinney Foundation.
Zellner said she did not believe the Black Lives Matter movement to be anti-police. “You can’t be anti-police,” she said. “It’s really about how can we make them work better, and how can we reverse some of the systemic things that were created in the past to make a better future?”
Zellner said she didn’t take offense at the “defund policing” messaging seen and heard at protests around the country.
“I saw a meme that said it best: ‘We don’t want to defund the police, we just want to reallocate the resources to better serve our community,’ but that doesn’t fit so well in a slogan,” Zellner said with a laugh. “In my opinion, we absolutely need to be funding more community resources, because those resources help the police at the same time as they help the community. Whether it’s in social work, education, or mental health, these things absolutely need to be funded, and then we as a society will rely less on needing law enforcement to respond.”
Zellner rode 564 miles in July, including a socially distanced group ride that she organized and an indoor event she put on for people to participate inside.
“It was insane,” she said. “Cycling for me is a newer thing. I’m actually a runner at heart, and cycling became a thing when I was training for a triathlon. But really the Bike Ride for Black Lives initiative I started up in Fort Collins was birthed after doing the Police Unity Tour, which is a ride from New Jersey to D.C. that honors law enforcement officers who were killed in the line of duty. Speaking about the intersectionality between my identities, I honored law enforcement with that ride, and I wanted to be able to find a way to honor the Black community as well, and this was the perfect way to do it.”