Pro-Community does not mean Anti-Police

From Deputy Director Cammy Watkins

 

August 2020 – In Omaha and across the nation we’ve seen consistent protests and calls from the public to end one persistent vestige of structural racism – suppression of lower income and communities of color through over-policing. This isn’t a new topic, and it’s not going away until there are intentional investments into community supports not community criminalization.

We’ve heard our leaders talk about the nuisance that protestors have been causing, the inconvenience of blocking roadways, the damage to property. What about the trauma from continuous criminalization of BIPOC and individuals who are often othered in our society? What about the nuisance of being stopped by Police or having the Police called upon you for doing anything while Black?

The most damaging thing about these protests has been the reaction from our Mayor and other City officials. The decision to portray the outcry of the people, by the people and for the people, as a stance against the City as opposed to one FOR the City is the problem. If that becomes the sole takeaway from these protests, then active, compassionate listening is not happening. I love my Omaha and it is because I love it that I fight so hard for it.

As my friend Jasmine Harris said at the Omaha Budget public hearing last Tuesday, this movement is not about being anti-police, but about being pro-community. True leadership is understanding this nuance. Instead of Back the Blue events, we need to see Blue Lives for Black Lives events, with representatives from all levels of leadership. We need both symbolic and actual demonstrations that the system and the people are on the same page; that the community is coming together from the grasstops to the grassroots.

Unfortunately, to date there is a lack of acknowledgement from our leadership, and very likely a lack of understanding that the uprisings across the country are not just about the issues with Minneapolis PD but are ALSO about the real concerns with the system of Policing in Omaha.

Our City leaders must understand that concerns about the Police department are not summed up in Police involved shootings and use of force reports alone. We also need to address the over-policing of lower income neighborhoods, the racially biased traffic stops record, the lack of independent oversight (that would be made possible with a Police Auditor), and the disproportionate number of BIPOC in our criminal justice system as a result of these unaddressed tactics.

When our state and local leaders fail to address and be accountable for the problems within our Police department, they are only perpetuating the next inevitable series of protests in our city and beyond. We will not be able to progress as a community, until we own our mistakes and actively seek to learn from them, then solve them. And until we do, we WILL be resigned to literally live up to our state slogan: Nebraska, it’s not for everyone.

 

*An edited version of this piece was originally published as a letter to the editor in the Omaha World Herald.
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