LONGMONT, Colo. — Two community organizers were honored by both the state and City of Longmont Friday for over 40 years of social justice work.
Victor Vela and Marta Moreno both received flags flown over the State Capitol at a ceremony in Longmont.
The city declared August as "El Comité de Longmont" month.
El Comité was founded by Vela, Moreno, and others in 1980 after two young Latino men were shot and killed by police.
“There was a lot of anger, disbelief, and pain at the crime; they didn’t know what to do, it had never happened in Longmont before,” Vela said.
El Comité met with police and city leaders called on the Department of Justice for help. Hundreds protested in the streets.
“When there could have been riots and destruction, instead there was organizing, protest, and reconciliation,” State Representative Jonathan Singer said.
The officer was acquitted.
The family of the victims was devastated.
“It was very painful for them, and who wouldn’t when you lose a child?” Marta Moreno said.
The work El Comité did led to reforms within the Longmont Police Department, including more training for officers, a hotline to report misconduct, and the establishment of a use of force policy.
“I felt after that we did a lot to help the police department, the citizens and, of course, the Latino community,” Vela said.
The work they started 40 years ago mirrors many of the social justice reforms protesters are calling for today.
Vela says from his experience, it’s important that they own their movement to keep the peace.
“I had people calling me from the outside — radical groups — who wanted to come in here and start problems and we told them, 'it's our community and we are going to take care of it ourselves,'” Vela said.
El Comité continues to hold law enforcement accountable by being a bridge between the police and the community. They also provide legal services, English classes, and help people meet basic needs.
Vela has started a new nonprofit called LatinX Voice.
Moreno recently retired but says her work is not done.