Nebraska Appleseed, ACLU Nebraska, and NAACP Lincoln Branch have been hosting a series of conversations on racial justice, discussing life in Nebraska post-424, the ballot initiative that banned affirmative action in our state. The conversations are an opportunity for the community to gather together to learn about and discuss issues surrounding racial justice. We’ve used several starting points, including health care equity, labor, and what a post-racial society looks like in light of the election of an African American president.
On Thursday, Chief Tom Casady of the Lincoln Police Department, Lancaster County Attorney Gary Lacey, Douglas County Juvenile Judge Vern Daniels, and Tiffany Siebert from Voices for Children were part of a panel for our most recent community conversation: “The Color of Equality – Is there Justice for all?” We expected about 50 people; more than 125 people of all ages, races and backgrounds packed into the Northbridge Community Center – a community center located next to a Lincoln police sub-station.
We talked about statistics, which no one disputed – of all juveniles held in detention in Nebraska, in both juvenile and adult facilities, over 41% were youth of a minority race. We talked about the problems offices have recruiting minorities and appropriate training. At times passions ran high. On a beautiful summer evening, the panelists agreed to sit and answer some hard questions and the community stayed on despite the fact that the room was over-crowded and hot.
Chief Casady continued the conversation the next day in his blog entitled “Perceptions May Differ”, saying: “You are living under a rock if you don’t recognize the depth of distrust that festers in the United States between police officers and many African American citizens.” He went on to say, “I think it is something of a national disgrace that the demographics of our jails, prisons, and correctional institutions are so racially skewed.” Recognizing that the criminal justice system mirrors economic, educational, and other disparities in society, he offered a few solutions he could attempt to influence as a police officer – to try and treat everyone fairly, to understand that the perceptions of citizens and police may differ, to be sure to explain the reason for stops/contact to avoid misunderstandings, to have local police carry business cards to hand to the citizens they stop, and to apologize – particularly to those who have been mistakenly detained.
So, we took a small step toward equal justice by talking and listening to one another. Nebraska Appleseed, ACLU Nebraska and NAACP Lincoln Chapter are committed to continuing the conversation we started last Thursday. If our perceptions differ, we must all understand them and keep taking steps toward equality and justice for all.