Colorado Springs resident, Patrick Rau, 29, dodged murder charges last Friday, Sept. 7. His case was dismissed by Judge Jann DuBois, the judge of the 4th Judicial District, under the protection of Colorado’s “Make My Day” law.
Colorado Homeowner Defense Act, nicknamed “Make My Day,” states that a resident is justified in shooting and killing an intruder if they believe the intruder intends to commit a crime or use force, “no matter how slight.” Similar to the “stand your ground” law that was hotly debated after the Florida shooting of Tamir Rice, the assailant is immune from criminal prosecution and civil liability.
On Jan. 19, 2017, Donald Wayne Russell, a man experiencing homelessness, was sleeping in the basement of Rau’s apartment complex on 219 N. Wahsatch Ave., only two blocks south of Colorado College. Rau approached the basement, armed.
Tennent Ryan O’Connell heard the situation play out. According to O’Connell in an interview with the Colorado Springs Gazette, Rau entered the basement with a gun, screaming, “Get out, get out,” and then counted down from five to one, indicating the intention to shoot. O’Connell also heard another man screaming something he couldn’t make out. There was a shot, and Russell was dead.
Because this law is predicated on the ability and right to have a home, in order to protect said home, it is unsurprising courts ruled in the favor of the homeowner over the homeless man.
William Wilbanks, expert of Colorado homeowner defense, critiques the “Make My Day” law for similar reasons.
“The Make My Day law is part of a more general attitude that allows the pre-emptive strike by ‘good guys’ against ‘bad guys,’” Wilbanks said.
In addition to codified excusal of violence, this ruling uncovers another one of Colorado Springs’ problems: homelessness, specifically the criminalization of homelessness. This case is just one of many cases of violence enacted against people experiencing homelessness.
With an increasingly expensive housing market, a minimum wage far below a living wage, and a distinct lack of affordable housing, homelessness is on the rise in Colorado Springs, and people experiencing homelessness are running out of options to find shelter. Last January, the Pikes Peak Continuum of Care surveyed 1,551 people across El Paso county who agreed to be counted in a homelessness point survey, an all-time high. The organization believes the actual count of people experiencing homelessness is much greater, according to The Gazette.
Despite lack of safe shelter, in July 2018, Colorado Springs City Council passed a citywide ordinance banning several homeless camps located near Monument Creek and floated the idea of a city-wide sweep of homeless camps. The council will vote on the wide-sweeping ban within the next few weeks, according to KRDO. The City Council of Colorado Springs is also currently brainstorming new ways to “slow” the rise of homelessness, looking into patchwork fixes such as increasing the number of shelter beds.
Homelessness in Colorado Springs is treated by the courts and the City Council as an epidemic, something to be slowed down and protected against. The underlying causal mechanisms and attitudes of homelessness are never addressed. If the city proclaims a concerted effort to slow homelessness, while decreasing availability of affordable housing, sweeping camps, and condoning violence against the homeless, it warrants the question of where our city’s true values lie.