SENIOR ONLINE REPORTER
Oftentimes when we think of elections, we focus on the federal races like the presidency because of the significant role they play in the reputation and future of the nation.
However, the races that affect important issues like public health, criminal justice and infrastructure are the local elections in our own cities including the Omaha City Council, the County Commissioner, the school boards, District Attorney and the Mayor.
Each of these positions have important roles which make influential decisions that affect you and others in your community. In order to address the systemic and institutional disadvantages that have historically affected various marginalized groups, being knowledgeable about your own community is vital.
Representation fosters engagement between residents and their representatives, forging connections that promote policies and practices that reflect the living experiences of residents and are viewed by the community as fair and sensible.
Recently, the Omaha City Council went ahead with the swearing in ofColleen Brennan to fill in the District 5 seat of former councilman Rich Pahls, who will represent District 31 in the state legislature. However, recent blog posts, including one titled The Conversation on Race, has raised many concerns among residents. Some of her statements paint those in the Black community in a negative light. Some of the stereotypes included “adoration of crime” and “not doing enough for ourselves.”
These stereotypes often create distrust between elected representatives and citizens because they fuel stigma against communities seeking reform to address the glaring historical issues that have yet to change.
In the three largest cities in the Metro area– Omaha, Council Bluffs and Bellevue–the percentage of City Council members who are people of color does not match the population, according to a study by the Landscape.
The project is organized by the Omaha Community Foundation to provide insight and data from direct engagement with residents in Douglas, Sarpy and Pottawatomie Counties. Their study found that, in Douglas County, 23% of the representatives in the legislature are people of color. That exceeds the percentage of the population who are people of color, which is
21%. Women are also underrepresented, with only 23% of elected officials being female despite women making up 51% of the population.
Reflecting back on Ferguson, Missouri where many Black Lives Matter protests occurred in the result of Michael Brown’s untimely death by police brutality, the predominantly white jury in the case chose not to indict the officer, which sparked an investigation from the U.S. Department of Justice into the Ferguson criminal justice system.
“Ferguson, Missouri: population 22,0000, 67 percent African-American, high poverty, double-digit unemployment, yet the residents have the power to single-handedly elect the mayor (which includes the appointment of the police chief), the power to single handedly elect most of the city council, school board, and other offices,” said UNO Black Studies Professor, Preston Love Jr. in his book, Economic Cataracts.
During 2014, Ferguson had a white mayor, a white police chief, a mostly white city council with one Black member and only 3 Black police officers in the 53-member force.This is partially due to low voter turnout for the April 2014 mayoral election at just 12%in 2014.
Although there has been an increase of voter turnout in Ferguson since 2014, the issues of police violence against people of color currently remains an ongoing issue in all 50 states.
Criminal justice reform is just one of the important issues that local elections highlight, because the mayor is responsible for appointing key department heads, including the chief of police. The city council is responsible for creating laws and approving city budgets along with approving or rejecting department heads.
As a voter and a representative of your community, you play a key role in who could make decisions that affect your community as a whole.