TOPECA, can. – First she saw a graphic video from a mobile phone showing Ahmaud Arbery being shot dead in Georgia, then the news that Breona Taylor was shot dead at her home in Kentucky during a failed drug raid. But when Teresa Parks watched a video of a white Minneapolis police officer pressing her knee to a black man’s neck, and heard George Floyd scream at his mother when his life was exhausted, she was moved not only to tears but to action.
After Floyd’s death in May 2020, Parks and his friend formed the Black Lives Matter in their hometown of Manhattan, Kansas, a mostly white city that has not elected black leaders since 1969. Parks ’activity led to her appointment to a task force in that city. Leaders said it was created to make the community more hospitable to people of diverse backgrounds.
This task force in December 2021 issued a report with more than 60 recommendations, but so far the city commission has not discussed them. And this is unusual. Across Kansas, elected leaders convened task forces or held town hall rallies to gather public opinion on racial justice and diversity after protesters in more than a dozen communities protested against Floyd’s death. But after almost two years, the passion and energy expressed in these protests did not turn into far-reaching changes.
One of the most common results was the registration of changes that have already been made. For example, Tapeca and Lawrence’s police banned search warrants without knocking, but police in both cities have already stopped the practice. In several Kansas cities, including Wichita and Kansas City, police have published practices they say they have already adopted.
Lauren Bonds, legal director of a group of lawyers, jurists and law students from New Orleans called the National Police Accountability Project, said local leaders sometimes set up working groups if they want to feel they are on the right side of the issue but lack political will to real change.
“You put a few colored people on it, and then you can point it out if someone says you didn’t react to this outrageous situation, but then you don’t need to change anything,” said Bonds, who is in Kansas City. Kansas.
Hispanic population in Kansas has more than quadrupled in the past 30 years, largely due to immigrants attracted to work in the meat processing industry in the southwestern state, and blacks grew by 15% between 1990 and 2020. But Kansas remains mostly white and non-Hispanic; According to the state’s National Legislative Conference, 72% of residents called themselves that during the 2020 census, and the Kansas legislature that year was 92% white.
Proposals made by defense groups on behalf of racial justice in Kansas are usually stopped. Following Floyd’s protests, for example, Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly appointed a committee on racial equality and justice, saying “colored communities do not have the luxury of time for leaders to address these issues.” But neither the board nor the governor pushed the legislature to accept the group’s recommendations.
And this year, the movement in the Republican-controlled legislature has deviated from racial justice by limiting what public schools teach about racism and tightening voting laws.
Kevin Wilmot, a film professor at the University of Kansas who won an Oscar in 2019 for Best Adapted Screenplay for BlacKkKlansman, said that when elected officials form task forces, they often face small opposition, giving people hope that they can bring change.
“But then the task force doesn’t change anything,” Wilmot said. “So on the surface it seems like you’re being brought to the water, but you’re not allowed to drink.”
“They know you just let the trick move away and then get back to normal. Until the next George Floyd, who may be in Kansas. You never know, ”he said.
Efforts on racial justice after Floyd in other Kansas cities have had mixed results.
In Viandot County, which includes Kansas City, then-Mayor David Elvy set up a special group in 2020 to discuss police practices, but he told task force members not to advocate for specific changes during meetings.
“It was such a politically rich atmosphere,” Alvi said. “I wanted to avoid politics as much as possible.”
About a quarter of Viandot County’s population is black, and voters have been electing the same percentage of black commissioners since 2005. Last year, Alvi nearly lost the re-election to Tyrone Garner, who became the community’s first black mayor. Garner, a former deputy police chief, was running for police reform. He also announced the creation of a new committee to study police practice, which he said would – unlike his predecessor’s group – work out proposals for the city’s vote. Last month, the committee held introductory meetings.
Garner’s view of the community and the police was shaped during his years in the police force. Early in his career, a black police major told him that previously minority officers were not allowed to arrest or communicate with white residents. Such stories prompted Garner to pay attention to how colleagues talk about minority police chiefs and officers.
Among other things, Garner hopes his new task force will consider requiring an external law enforcement agency to investigate police offenses.
Discussions are taking place in other Kansas communities. In Topeka, a task force set up by the former mayor is considering police policy in response to proposals to ban suffocation, ban officers from shooting at fleeing suspects, and set up an independent civilian group to investigate allegations of police misconduct. The group met for almost two years and did not give any recommendations to the City Council.
Salina city commissioners approved a proposal in 2020 to set up a new commission to review citizens, but defenders were disappointed that it did not give the council the power to investigate complaints.
In the affluent Kansas City suburb of Prairie Village, where blacks make up about 1 percent of the population, the city’s budget this year included $ 10,000 for the Diversity Committee, which uses part of the funds to celebrate Martin Luther King Day and Martin Luther King Day . honors the end of slavery in the United States.
Following rallies in the Liberal community in southwest Kansas after Floyd’s death, the town hall hosted a town hall where participants discussed their experiences of fighting racism. Hispanics make up nearly two-thirds of the Liberal population.
About a month after the meeting, the liberal city commissioners decided to hold similar public forums as needed, but so far no other meetings have taken place.
Defender of racial justice Kathleen Alonso sought a ruling, but told the AP that she had shifted her focus to increasing voter turnout. In November, the Liberal elected two Spanish-speaking members to the city commission, including its first Latino city commissioner.
In Manhattan, Parks, local founder of Black Lives Matter, hopes, not disappointed, that the city has not yet adopted more than 60 task force recommendations. Many are beyond the control of the city government, but some are within its remit, including hiring an employee for diversity, equity and inclusion to work in city-funded organizations.
Thanks to her involvement, Parks has acquired a line of communication with the police that allows them to share information with other residents when they are worried about what they hear or see on social media. This leads to improved relations between the police and black residents, who make up about 6% of the community, and this has been one of the main goals of the Park.
Shortly before the demonstration of his band Black Lives Matter in 2020, Parks met with an officer to address issues. This new line of communication was tested in the year when the witness filmed a man who apparently had a seizure while being handcuffed. Parks contacted the officer and learned from police that they were holding him in handcuffs so he would not injure himself.
“They answered every question we had and we were able to bring it back and sort of give people a little clarity on the situation,” Parks said.
All this is aimed at achieving Parks’ goal – to avoid the murder of police officers, like George Floyd, in Manhattan.
“Hearing this grown man calling his mother – I just couldn’t – I can’t even talk about it,” Parks said, her voice trembling. “It’s something I would never want to see for my children.”
Andy Cubasa Field is a member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Reporting for America is a nonprofit national service program that puts journalists in local newsrooms to report on closed topics.
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