3 Lawrence residents selected to serve on state commission studying racial equity and justice

photo by: Contributed Photos

From left, Lawrence Superintendent Anthony Lewis, University of Kansas administrator and associate professor Shannon Portillo, and KU assistant professor Brandon Davis, have been selected to serve on a state commission focused on issues of racial equity in justice.

Three Lawrence residents have been selected to serve on a state commission focused on issues of racial equity in justice.

Gov. Laura Kelly announced in a news release on Wednesday that she signed an executive order to create the commission, which will first work on community relations of Kansas law enforcement. The 14-member commission includes Lawrence Superintendent Anthony Lewis and University of Kansas assistant professor Brandon Davis, who are both Black men, and KU administrator and associate professor Shannon Portillo, who is Mexican American.

Portillo, who has studied criminal justice during her career in academia, will serve as the commission’s co-chair along with Topeka Superintendent Tiffany Anderson. Portillo is also a Democratic candidate for the Douglas County Commission’s 3rd District seat this fall.

Kelly said in a news release announcing the creation of the commission that it will work to find policy actions the state can take to address racial disparities in criminal justice. The commission is expected to provide an initial report to Kelly by Dec. 1, which is a little more than a month before the Kansas Legislature is scheduled to convene for the 2021 legislative session.

The creation of the commission comes after protests across the country have called for action to address systemic racism in the U.S. criminal justice system, particularly law enforcement’s treatment of Black Americans.

The protests were spurred after George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, died after pleading for air while being pinned under the knee of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Chauvin has since been charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, and three other police officers who were at the scene also face charges in connection with Floyd’s death.

“As Governor, I am committed to ensuring this latest tragedy does not fade into the next news cycle,” Kelly said in the news release. “Communities of color do not have the luxury of time for leaders to address these issues.”

Portillo told the Journal-World in an email that she is honored to be selected as co-chair for the commission. She said the commission includes a diverse group of community leaders and academic experts who could provide meaningful recommendations.

“By selecting a diverse group of leaders, Governor Kelly is demonstrating that she wants to listen to the communities most affected by structural racism in our criminal justice system,” Portillo said. “I’m looking forward to hearing from communities across our state, engaging with practitioners, and bringing my years of criminal justice research to the table in support of the Governor’s efforts.”

Lewis said in a statement provided to the Journal-World that he appreciates Kelly’s decision to create the commission and noted that he is ready to get to work on the issues.

“There is much work to be done in order to increase racial equity and justice in Kansas now,” Lewis said. “There is even more work to be done to provide liberation from structural and systemic racism that will ultimately benefit generations to come.”

Davis said in an email that the commission’s work is related to his field of study at KU, which is race, ethnicity, law and society, among other areas. He did not provide further comment.

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