Omaha listening session airs complaints of racism among police, society

Alisha Shelton address a listening session in Omaha Monday (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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June 8, 2020 - 6:01pm

Longstanding grievances against police mixed with more recent complaints, demands for reform, and a general airing of grievances at a listening session in Omaha Monday.


While members of the public waited their turn to speak, members of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee heard from long chain of people describing their interactions with police. Among them was Rev. Darrell Goodwin, a United Church of Christ official for Nebraska and Iowa who’s black. Goodwin said he was stopped three times while driving in Omaha last year but never charged with a violation. He said he was escorted into a demonstration last weekend by Omaha police to de-escalate the situation, and all seemed to be going well until the eight o’clock curfew hit.

“When eight o’clock came, I’m telling you, I stood in the wake of having pepper balls shot at me and my fellow clergyperson; I stood in the wake of having gas thrown at us; I stood in the wake and watched an Omaha police person shoot a young person in the back with pepper balls seven times. You cannot tell me that that was in their doing their job. I could not even pray for people as a black person in the state of Nebraska without being afraid of shot at or peppered, even after the police escorted me ‘safely,’” Goodwin said.

Fatima Flores-Lagunas said having lived in Omaha for 20 years, she concluded the world was not built for people like her.

“As an immigrant, woman of color, and queer individual I taught myself about the obstacles I would face one day. I learned that as a woman, I would make less money than my male colleagues. I learned that I could be fired from my job for being with a woman, despite the fact that our love was just as valid as everyone else’s. I learned that the feeling that came up on the back of my neck was one of fear and concern and distrust,” Flores-Lagunas said.

Alisha Shelton faulted the way police are evaluated for their fitness to serve.

“As a licensed independent mental health practitioner, and a Nebraskan, I’d like to see new psychological testing for recruits and cadets. I have spent the last week reviewing psychological testing, not only in the state of Nebraska, in Chicago, in Minnesota, everywhere in the Midwest. I even looked at California, I even looked at New York. They don’t have a high level of validity, of reliability, and what that basically means is they don’t do what they’re supposed to,” Shelton said.

Jessica Perrigan questioned the money being spent for police.

“The University of Nebraska saw state funding cut by 4 percent from 2018 to 2019, while the budget for the Omaha police rose by 11.5 percent in the same timeframe. (It’s) not quite an apples-to-apples comparison, given that it’s city vs. state. But I do believe it’s an illustration of priorities,” Perrigan said.

Halley Taylor listed concerns that went far beyond police community relations, and challenged committee members to address a long list of issues:

“Studying your relationship with white privilege. Bias. Identity. Redlining. Food deserts. Racism. Structural racism. Systemic racism. Individual racism. Racial inequality. The school to prison pipeline. Sexism and homophobia. Do the work,” Taylor said.

But Taylor, who said these concerns affected her black family, struck a nerve with Sen. Ernie Chambers, who’s black, when she passed 10 minutes in her speaking turn when others were generally limited to five minutes, and when she demanded a response from committee members.

“I’m going to ask you to say the three words, ‘Black Lives Matter.’ And I will wait. I will wait to hear from you. You asked to hear from us, but who are we speaking to? Where are your hearts I don’t know each of you personally,” Taylor said.

Chambers interrupted: “I’m not going to leave the burden on our chairman. There are a lot of people outside who want to speak. It’s not a speechifying event. And it’s unfair to other people, and it’s almost like expressing white privilege to disobey the rules… I’m going to ask you, would you stop now?” he said.

“That was it. That was all that I had,” Taylor responded, adding “And I just want to clarify: I’m not white.”

“I didn’t say you’re white. I said it’s like white privilege,” Chambers replied.

“I understand. I respectfully disagree. Thank you, Sen. Chambers,” Taylor concluded.

The hearing continued, with around 100 people expressing their views, until almost 6 p.m.


Editor’s note: There will be another listening session Tuesday in Lincoln at NET. The session will be broadcast live on NET 2, and streamed at netnebraska.org.

NET News and our Harvest Public Media partners are reporting as part of the national “America Amplified: Election 2020” project that aims to listen to and amplify the voices of those in diverse communities across the nation. Learn more at americaamplified.org and on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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