By Tressa Eckermann, Senior Staff Writer
UNO’s Department of Black Studies’ 11th Annual Malcolm X Festival began March 7 with three discussions dealing with the law, youth and the problems that face both.
The day began at 8:30 a.m. with “The Law: A Tool of Justice or Weapon of Injustice,” a discussion given by Neil Williams, Juris Doctor of Loyola University School of Law.
The event was attended by a full audience. UNO student Alex Bracht feels it’s important to keep these events on campus.
“For one thing, Omaha is one of the most segregated cities in the U.S.,” Bracht said. “Events like these make people aware of segregation and that racism still exists.”
The second discussion, “How Police Practices Contribute to the Prison Pipeline,” began at noon and was given by Samuel Walker, a Criminal Justice professor at UNO, who has written 11 books on policing, criminal justice history and policy and civil liberties. Currently, he is researching police accountability, focusing on citizen oversight of the police and a system to be used by police called Early Warning or EW.
Walker began by discussing how race is an issue when it comes to policing. He said one of the major issues in our society is over incarceration.
“There is a lot of progress,” Walker said. “I don’t know if we’ve seen it in Omaha.”
Drug arrests show the greatest disparity in who gets arrested, Walker said. He claims this is a direct result of deliberate decisions made by arresting officers, which leads to a sense of disillusionment within the communities that are being targeted.
Walker said there is a desire to change this problem, but how can we do that? The wrong way to fix the problem is to simply “change the apples,” a term Walker used to refer to the police officers. Walker pointed out research that says there is no evidence if a police officer is white, black, Latino, female or male, will have an effect on their treatment of minorities.
Walker believes officers should have a college education and know the law, but he doesn’t believe this is the only factor in fixing the problem.
“It’s not the apple that’s stupid,” he said. “It’s the barrel that’s rotten.”
If you look at places like New Orleans, Oakland and Newark—some of the worst police departments in the country—the problems stem from the organizations, not just the police officers, Walker said.
“You can change the apples, but the barrel is still going to be rotten,” he said. “You have to change the system.”
So how do you do that? Walker said we have to change three things. First, we need to update the use of force policies. Second, we need to update the citizen complaint process. Third, we need to implement the Early Intervention system.
The system is a computerized database that shows officer performance, complaints, and disciplinary actions and analyzes their patterns. When analyzed, the data shows the officers that standout in a bad way. This system identifies officers who have the most complaints of force and officers who stop the highest numbers of African American drivers.
Once this is done, the organization can begin an intervention. This may include supervisor counseling, special training, officer transfer, denial of a promotion or desired transfer and—in the most extreme cases—termination. The database is essentially a high tech way of showing the department when they have a problem.
“This is a problem we can control,” Walker summarized. “We just haven’t figured out how to do it yet.”
After Walker’s lecture, there was a short question and answer session. The day wrapped up with a final discussion at 2:30 p.m., “Youth and Corrections,” presented by Robert Bryant of the Douglas County Youth Center. The Malcolm X Festival continued March 8 with three additional discussions.