In wake of protests, Lawrence mayor asks 2 city boards to work on racial equity projects

photo by: Screenshot/City of Lawrence

Lawrence Mayor Jennifer Ananda speaks to the City Commission during its virtual meeting Tuesday, June 2, 2020.

In the wake of a protest against police brutality that filled the streets of downtown Lawrence, the mayor has asked two city boards to start working on projects related to racial equity.

Thousands of people marched down Massachusetts Street on Sunday evening to protest police killings of black people and systemic racism in the United States, as the Journal-World previously reported. At the Lawrence City Commission’s meeting Tuesday, Mayor Jennifer Ananda expressed support for the protest and said change needed to include Lawrence, and she laid out some methods for doing so.

Specifically, Ananda called for the city’s Community Police Review Board and the Human Relations Commission to undertake projects aimed at addressing police bias and systemic racism.

Ananda called for the police review board to “remobilize” to its mission, which includes providing recommendations to the city on issues affecting the Lawrence police department, its policies, and other issues related to racial bias and other types of bias in policing. She said there were many effective changes that have been made to policing, including reviews of use of force policies, demilitarization, investing in alternatives to policing, and using predictive policing models to identify officers with problematic behavior.

In addition, Ananda said she wanted the HRC to review the city’s ordinances using a toolkit created by the Government Alliance on Race and Equity and make recommendations to the commission regarding ordinances that disproportionately impact black residents and others with marginalized identities. She asked that the police review board and HRC work directly with the city’s future director of equity and inclusion to ensure a holistic set of standards and coordinated timelines.

City Commission Meeting 06/02/20

Despite Lawrence’s abolitionist past, Ananda said, the city was not immune to racist, violent actions against people of color. She said that health care, economic and criminal justice systems were set up to disenfranchise people of color, and the city needed to acknowledge that and see it was no better than any other community in that regard.

“Because until we do, we do not create lasting, impactful change,” Ananda said. “Our systems are not broken; they are doing exactly what they were created to do.”

The Lawrence protest was one of dozens that have occurred across the country since George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died while being restrained by Minneapolis police on May 25.

Other commissioners also expressed solidarity with the protesters. Commissioner Lisa Larsen said that Floyd’s killing was only the latest example in a long list of violent incidents against black people. She said change was indeed needed, and that she stood in solidarity with peaceful protests that were happening and commended those who protested Sunday night in downtown Lawrence. Vice Mayor Brad Finkeldei said systemic racism has been tolerated and accepted for too long and that black lives mattered.

Throughout the city’s efforts to improve racial equity, it would be important to listen to the community, Ananda said.

“We have to continually remember to listen, listen to the needs articulated to us by our community throughout this process and beyond, so we can get things right this time so that our children aren’t having these same conversations again,” Ananda said.

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