In forum, candidates for Douglas County sheriff address systemic racism, issues affecting transgender people
photo by: Screenshot
Candidates for Douglas County sheriff and undersheriff participated in an online forum Friday evening that specifically focused on issues of concern to Black people, Indigenous people and people of color as well as the LGBTQIA community.
During the forum, two of the Democratic candidates for sheriff, Lt. Jay Armbrister and Capt. Doug Woods, as well as Deputy Dale Flory’s pick for undersheriff, Lt. Clark Rials, who stood in for Flory, answered questions about trust and bias in law enforcement, training, white supremacy and issues affecting transgender individuals.
The moderators for the forum were Jay Pryor, a local speaker, author and activist; Tiffany Lewis, chief operations officer for Heartland Community Health Center; and Clare Nderagakura, a local entrepreneur and community organizer.
Lewis asked the candidates what they would do to address implicit biases and systemic issues for people of color.
Armbrister said systemic racism does exist “especially in policing.” He said he wants the sheriff’s office to be a diverse agency that represents a cross-section of the community. It will be difficult, he said, but he wants the agency to gain the trust of people of color and marginalized groups and recruit them to join the team and help make changes.
Rials, who is Black, said the issue goes back to educating everyone. He plans to start a social justice committee to determine what actions to take. He said he experienced racism just a couple of days ago when he went to place a yard sign at a business — he’d gotten permission from the business owner, but when he arrived, a white woman working there left him locked outside while she went to check because she didn’t believe him.
He said he feared the aggression some people have toward Black people may be here to stay.
“Unless we join together as a community, it’s never going to go away,” Rials said.
Woods said a study on law enforcement contact with the public will help to determine whether and where bias exists within the agency; that study is still underway, but once the numbers are compiled, the sheriff’s office will be able to pinpoint if any deputies seem to be stopping more people of color, for instance. Then they can take action, whether it may be education, discipline or termination. he said.
In addition, the candidates all decried racism in any form, and they said they would investigate threats by white supremacists to the best of their ability and offer resources to victims of such threats. Armbrister mentioned, and the others agreed, that the Confederate flag is an offensive symbol. Woods said that the flag angers and scares people. Rials said he believes those who display the flag are either ignorant or uneducated.
All three candidates addressed questions from Pryor about how the sheriff’s office handles transgender people in situations such as bookings into the jail, or pulling over someone who is transitioning and may not look like the photo or the sex listed on their driver’s license.
The jail has a policy on how transgender people can be accommodated so that, for example, no one who identifies as female or who would be uncomfortable is put in housing with a group of men. However, all three candidates agreed that training for law enforcement is still lacking in this area, and they agreed that officers need to be open-minded and accepting in such situations. They also said they thought more training on the topic would be beneficial.
The sheriff candidates will participate in a forum hosted by the Lawrence chapter of the NAACP at 1 p.m. next Saturday, July 18. Registration for that forum is available at bit.ly/NAACPSheriffForum.
The election will almost certainly be decided in the Aug. 4 Democratic primary, as no Republicans filed for the seat. The deadline to register to vote is Tuesday. For more information or to check your registration, visit douglascountyelections.com or ksvotes.org.
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More 2020 election coverage: Douglas County sheriff race
• May 29, 2020: Douglas County undersheriff withdraws from race for sheriff
• April 21, 2020: Captain files to run for Douglas County Sheriff in 2020 election
• Oct. 16, 2018: Lieutenant files to run for Douglas County sheriff in 2020