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Community dialogue on police brutality, racism in Omaha

Published: Friday, November 30, 2007

Updated: Thursday, March 10, 2011 16:03

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Jamie Milhoan

Moses Brings Plenty (left to right), Duane Martin and Willie Hamilton addressed the problems of excessive police violence against people of the Omaha community Monday night in the Milo Bail Student Center. (Bill Wendl)

Since October 2006, Omaha has been without a police auditor, effectively limiting oversight on the city's first line of defense. Tristan Bonn, the former auditor, was fired by Mayor Mike Fahey amidst criticism over reported police brutality. Since her termination, Bonn has been active in addressing police brutality in minority communities, including a forum Monday sponsored by the Office of Latino/Latin American Studies, Native American Studies and the Black Studies Department. The forum, "One Heart, One Community," brought community leaders together to address recent minority relations with Omaha police and accusations of police brutality.


Ben Salazar, Willie Hamilton, Moses Brings Plenty and Duane Martin Sr. addressed about 30 people in attendance.


Hamilton, a member of Omahans for Justice Alliance, said even today, racism thrived in Omaha and its uniformed officers.

"Racism exists whether you like it or not," said Hamilton. "You look to the past or you repeat it."


Hamilton suggested community workshops as a possible solution. However, he said no progress could be made without a dialogue about race relations in Omaha.


"What makes us different, in race, plays a factor," said Hamilton.


In the previous year, there have been a reported 19 formalized complaints against Omaha police, said Bonn.


Those complaints are just the tip of the iceberg, agreed the panelists and audience members, many of whom had personal experiences with the Omaha Police Department.


"I am pushed to the wall with frustration by the fact that there is no leadership," said Salazar, publisher of Nuestro Mundo and an activist in the Latino community. "I have seen judges act out racist diatribes."


Salazar said the Latino community feels they are victims of racial profiling.


"I feel a great sadness," said Salazar. "I hear the frustration."


Brings Plenty, an activist for the Strong Heart Civil Rights Movement, pointed out the irony of minority citizens having to file complaints with the very officers they are confronted by.


"If we just developed a plan for the community, we wouldn't need to worry about a place to go," said Brings Plenty.


During her tenure as auditor, Bonn oversaw citizens' complaints against the police department, an experience that has led her to believe that citizens need to step up and defend themselves and their rights.


"I don't know why more people aren't paying attention," Bonn said.

She said finding proof of police brutality is not hard.


But finding the evidence, said the panelists, is just the beginning.


"Unless we get together as a community, nothing is going to get accomplished," Brings Plenty said.

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