Kansas equity efforts bring little change after George Floyd
Following Floyd’s death in May 2020, Parks and a friend formed a Black Lives Matter group in their hometown of Manhattan, Kansas, a largely white city that hadn’t elected a black leader since 1969. Parks led to his appointment to a task force that city leaders said was designed to make the community more welcoming to people from diverse backgrounds.
This task force published a report in December 2021 with more than 60 recommendations, but so far the city commission has not discussed them. And that’s not unusual. Across Kansas, elected leaders convened task forces or held town hall meetings to seek community input on racial justice and diversity issues after demonstrators in more than a dozen communities protested the Floyd’s death. But nearly two years later, the passion and energy evident in those protests has not translated into widespread change.
One of the most common results was to formalize the changes that had already been made. Topeka and Lawrence police, for example, banned “no-hit” 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 say they have already adopted.
Lauren Bonds, legal director of a New Orleans-based group of lawyers, jurists and law students called the National Police Accountability Project, said local leaders sometimes form task forces when they want to appear as being on the right side of a problem, but lack the political will to bring about real change.
“You’ll put people of color on it, and then you can report it when someone says you haven’t responded to this egregious situation, but then you don’t have to change anything,” said Bonds, who is based in Kansas City, Kansas.
Kansas’s Hispanic population has more than quadrupled in the past 30 years, largely due to immigrants attracted to meat industry jobs in the state’s southwest, and the black population has grown 15% between 1990 and 2020. But Kansas remains largely white. and non-Hispanic; 72% of residents identified as such in the 2020 census and the Kansas legislature was 92% white that year according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Proposals pushed by advocacy groups in the name of racial justice in Kansas have generally stalled. After the Floyd protests, for example, Democratic Governor Laura Kelly appointed a committee on racial equity and justice, saying “communities of color don’t have the luxury of giving leaders time to address these issues. “. But neither the panel nor the governor pushed the Legislative Assembly to adopt the group’s recommendations.
And this year, the momentum of the Republican-controlled Legislature has moved away from racial justice to limit what public schools teach about racism and tighten election laws.
Kevin Willmott, a University of Kansas film professor who won the 2019 Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for ‘BlacKkKlansman,’ said when elected officials create task forces, they often face little opposition. , giving people hope that they can effect change.
“But then the task force doesn’t change anything,” Willmott said. “So it appears on the surface as if you were taken to water, but you are not allowed to drink.”
“They know you just let the focus slip away and then you go back to normal. Until the next George Floyd, who could be in Kansas. You never know,” he said.
Post-Floyd racial justice efforts in other Kansas cities have had mixed results.
In Wyandotte County, which includes Kansas City, then-Mayor David Alvey 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 atmosphere,” Alvey said. “I wanted to keep politics out of the way as much as possible.”
About a quarter of Wyandotte County’s population is black, and voters have elected a similar percentage of black commissioners since 2005. Alvey narrowly lost re-election last year to Tyrone Garner, who became the first black mayor. from the community. Garner, who previously served as deputy police chief, ran for office on a police reform platform. He also announced a new committee to review policing practices, which he said would — unlike his predecessor’s group — develop proposals for the city to vote on. The committee held introductory meetings last month.
Garner’s views on the community and the police were shaped by his years as a police officer. Early in his career, a black police major explained to him that minority officers were previously not allowed to arrest or interact with white residents. Stories like that prompted Garner to pay attention to how his colleagues talked about minority leaders and police officers.
Among other things, Garner hopes his new task force will consider having an outside law enforcement agency investigate police misconduct.
Discussions are underway 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, ban officers from shooting fleeing suspects and create a police task force. Independent Citizens to Investigate Allegations of Police Misconduct. The group met for nearly two years and made no recommendations to city council.
Salina town commissioners approved a 2020 proposal to create a new Citizens’ Review Board, but advocates were disappointed that it didn’t give the council the power to investigate complaints.
In the affluent Kansas City suburb of Prairie Village, where black residents make up about 1% of the population, the city’s budget this year included $10,000 for a diversity committee that uses part of the funds to celebrate Martin Day. Luther King and Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in the United States.
Following rallies in the southwestern Kansas liberal community following Floyd’s death, the city held a town hall where attendees discussed their experiences with racism. Latinos make up nearly two-thirds of the liberal population.
About a month after the meeting, the Liberal City Commissioners passed an ordinance calling for similar public forums as needed, but so far no further meetings have taken place.
Racial justice lawyer Kathleen Alonso lobbied for the order, but told the AP she focused on increasing voter turnout. In November, the Liberals elected two Hispanic members to the city commission, including its first city commissioner from Latina.
In Manhattan, Parks, the local founder of Black Lives Matter, is hopeful instead of frustrated that the city has yet to adopt the task force’s more than 60 recommendations. Many of these are beyond the city government’s control, but some fall under its purview, including hiring a diversity, equity, and inclusion officer to work in city-sponsored organizations.
Through her involvement, Parks has acquired a police communication line that allows her to share information with other residents when they are concerned about something they hear or see on social media. This leads to a better relationship between the police and black residents, who make up about 6% of the community, and that was one of Parks’ main goals.
Shortly before her Black Lives Matter group’s 2020 protest, Parks met with an officer to contact with concerns. This new line of communication was tested that year when a witness made a video recording of a man who appeared to be having a seizure while being held in handcuffs. Parks contacted the officer and learned from the police that they had kept him handcuffed to prevent him from injuring himself.
“They answered all the questions we had and we were able to bring that back and give people some clarity on the situation,” Parks said.
It’s all about achieving Parks’ goal of averting a high-profile police killing like George Floyd’s in Manhattan.
“Hearing this grown man call his mother — I just couldn’t — I can’t even talk about it,” Parks said, his voice shaking. “It’s just something I would never want to see for my kids.”
Andy Tsubasa Field is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues.
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