Monday, December 05, 2022

Kansas equity efforts bring little change after George Floyd

Topeka, Cannes. ( Associated Press) — First she watched the graphic cellphone video of Ahmed Arbery being shot dead in Georgia, then news that Breonna Taylor was shot during a failed drug raid at her Kentucky home. But when Teresa Parks watched the video of a white Minneapolis police officer pressing her knee to a black man’s neck, and heard George Floyd cry for his mother as his life ended, she not only burst into tears. but was also inspired to take action.

Following Floyd’s May 2020 death, Parks and a friend formed a Black Lives Matter group in their hometown of Manhattan, Kansas, a largely white city that had not elected a black leader since 1969. Parks’ activism led to him being assigned to a task force in that city. The leaders said the community was designed to be more welcoming to people of different backgrounds.

That task force released a report in December 2021 with more than 60 recommendations, but so far the city commission has not discussed them. And it’s not unusual. Across Kansas, elected leaders convened task forces or held town hall meetings to gather community input on issues of racial justice and diversity after protesters in more than a dozen communities protested Floyd’s death. But nearly two years later, the passion and energy evident in those protests hasn’t translated into sweeping change.

One of the most common consequences is formalizing changes that have already been made. For example, Topeka and Lawrence police banned “no-knock” search warrants, but police in both cities had already stopped the practice. In several Kansas cities, including Wichita and Kansas City, police have written down practices they said they have already adopted.

Lauren Bond, legal director of the New Orleans-based attorneys, legal activists and law students of the National Police Accountability Project, said local leaders sometimes form working groups when they want to be seen on the right side of an issue. Lack of political will to make real change.

“You’ll put some people of color on it, and then you’ll be able to point it out when someone says you didn’t respond to this dire situation, but then you don’t really need to change anything,” he said. Bond, which is based in Kansas City, Kansas.

The Hispanic population in Kansas has more than quadrupled in the past 30 years, primarily due to migrants attracted to jobs in the meatpacking industry in the state’s southwest, and the black population increased by 15% between 1990 and 2020. . But Kansas remains largely white. and non-Hispanic; According to the National Convention of State Legislatures, 72% of residents self-identified in the 2020 census and the Kansas Legislature, 92% that year, were white.

Proposals made by advocacy groups on behalf of racial justice in Kansas usually stall. After Floyd’s protests, for example, Democratic Governor Laura Kelly appointed a committee on racial equality and justice, saying “communities of color don’t have the luxury of time for leaders to address these issues.” But neither the panel nor the governor prompted the legislature to adopt the group’s recommendations.

And this year, the momentum in the Republican-controlled legislature shifted away from racial justice, which teaches about racism in public schools, and tighter voting laws.

Kevin Willmott, the University of Kansas film professor who won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2019 for “BlacKkKlansman,” said that when elected officials form task force groups, they often face little opposition, leaving people Hopefully they can make a difference.

“But then the task force doesn’t change anything,” Wilmott said. “So it appears on the surface like you’re being brought into the water, but you’re not allowed to drink.”

“They know that you just let the attention wander and then you are back to normal. Until the next George Floyd, which could happen in Kansas. You never know,” he said.

Floyd racial justice efforts in other Kansas cities have seen mixed results.

In Wyndote County, which includes Kansas City, then-Mayor David Elway created a task force in 2020 to discuss policing practices, but he told task force members not to advocate for specific changes during meetings.

“It was such a politically charged environment,” Alvey said. “I wanted to keep politics out of it as much as possible.”

About a quarter of Wyandote County’s population is black, and voters have elected a similar percentage of black commissioners since 2005. Elway lost re-election last year to Tyrone Garner, who became the community’s first black mayor. Garner, who previously served as deputy police chief, ran for office on a police reform platform. He also announced a new committee to look into policing practices, which he said – unlike his predecessor group – craft proposals for the city to vote on. The committee held introductory meetings last month.

Garner’s ideas about the community and the policing have been shaped by his years as a police officer. Early in his career, a black police chief told him how minority officers were previously not allowed to arrest or interact with white residents. Such stories prompted Garner to focus on how allies spoke about minority police leaders and officers.

Among other things, Garner hopes his new task force will consider the need for an outside law enforcement agency to investigate police misconduct.

Discussions are ongoing in other Kansas communities. In Topeka, a task force set up by a former mayor is reviewing police policies in response to proposals to ban chokeholds, prevent officers from firing at suspects who run away and set up an independent investigation agency to investigate allegations of police misconduct. Citizens Panel. The group has been meeting for almost two years and has not made any recommendations to the city council.

City commissioners in Salina approved a 2020 proposal to create a new Citizens Review Board, but advocates were disappointed that it did not give the board the authority to investigate complaints.

In the affluent Kansas City suburb of Prairie Village, where black residents make up about 1% of the population, this year’s budget includes $10,000 for a diversity committee that is using some of the money to celebrate Martin Luther King Day and Juneteenth. which commemorates the end of slavery in the United States.

Following rallies in the southwestern Kansas community of Liberals following Floyd’s death, the city held a town hall where attendees discussed their experiences with racism. Latinos make up about two-thirds of the Liberals’ population.

About a month after the meeting, the Liberal city commissioners passed an ordinance calling for similar public forums, but no other meetings have yet taken place.

Racial justice advocate Kathleen Alonso pushed for the ordinance but told the Associated Press she focused on increasing voter turnout. In November, the Liberals elected two Hispanic members to the city commission, including its first Latina city commissioner.

In Manhattan, Parks, the founder of the local Black Lives Matter, is hopeful rather than disappointed that the city has yet to take on the task force’s more than 60 recommendations. Many of them are outside the control of city government, but some are within its purview, including hiring diversity, equity and inclusion officers to work in city-sponsored organizations.

Through her involvement, Parks has gained a line of communication with police that enables her to share information with other residents when they are concerned about something they are hearing on social media. or watching. This led to a better relationship between the police and black residents, who make up about 6% of the community, and was one of the park’s main goals.

Shortly before her Black Lives Matter group’s 2020 performance, Parks met with an official to address concerns. That new line of communication was tested the year a witness recorded a video recording of a man who appeared to be making a seizure while in handcuff custody. Parks contacted the officer and learned from the police that they had handcuffed him to prevent himself from injuring him.

“He answered every single question that we had and we were able to bring him back and give people a little bit of clarity about the situation,” Parks said.

It’s all aimed at fulfilling Park’s goal of escaping a high-profile police murder like that of George Floyd in Manhattan.

“To hear that grown man call out to his mother—I just can’t—I can’t even talk about it,” said Parks, his voice trembling. “It’s something I would never want my kids to see.”


Andy Tsubasa Field is a core member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a non-profit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on secret issues.


Follow Andy Tsubasa Field on Twitter


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