“Until George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer, sparking protests against racist police violence around the world, much of the popular depiction of the Midwest has been blind to its extreme racial inequality — or that nonwhite Midwesterners even exist.”
Police in Columbus, Ohio, used physical violence, tear gas and pepper spray against peaceful protesters without provocation in what a federal judge called “the sad tale of officers, clothed with the awesome power of the state, run amok.”
In Louisville, Kentucky, the officers who shot and killed Breonna Taylor in a botched raid escaped consequences after prosecutors misled a grand jury, according to the jurors.
Police in Kansas City, Missouri, are accused of using excessive and deadly force against Black and Brown Kansas Citians, constitutional violations, and discriminatory patterns and practices in policing. Yet the citizens of Kansas City have little recourse, because the department is governed by a state agency.
In each of these cities, trust between the police and the communities they serve is broken. Effective public safety cannot be achieved until that trust is restored. These are also cities where dynamic and determined Urban League affiliate presidents — Stephanie Hightower in Columbus, Sadiqa Reynolds in Louisville, and Gwen Grant in Kansas City — have led the efforts for justice, reform and accountability.
That’s why they are the first cities chosen by the National Urban League’s Equitable Justice & Strategic Initiatives Division (EJSI) for its Heartland Tour to promote the League’s comprehensive framework for criminal justice advocacy, 21 Pillars for Redefining Public Safety and Restoring Community Trust. The division, led by Senior Vice President Jerika Richardson, was created after the murder of George Floyd during the social justice uprising of 2020. In addition to leading the League’s criminal justice reform work, EJSI also focuses its policy and advocacy efforts on civic engagement, census and redistricting, protecting voting rights, ending gun violence, combating extremism and more.
EJSI recognizes that many cities in the Midwest do not often receive national media attention, even though they have some of the highest rates of police violence and complaints of police misconduct, and seeks to change that. Columbus, for example, has the highest rate of police shootings in the country, according to Police Scorecard.
Kansas City ranked 496th of 500 departments evaluated based on use of force, arrests for low-level offenses, homicide clearance rates, accountability and overall spending on policing.
Only eight departments had a higher rate than Louisville of arrests for low-level offenses.
The League’s 21 Pillars centers on five key themes that are fundamental to the protection and preservation of life, dignity, trust, and safer communities: collaboration, accountability, changing divisive policies, transparency, and elevated standards for hiring and training police. The Heartland Tour will familiarize communities with the objectives of the 21 Pillars, amplify the issues and concerns relevant in each city, and advocate for policy solutions.
The tour begins with a community forum at the Lincoln Theater in Columbus on September 15 at 6 pm Central Time. Community leaders from Cincinnati and Cleveland, which rank among the worst cities for use of deadly force on unarmed people, also have been invited to participate. Among the speakers are Columbus Police Chief Elaine Bryant, who this summer became the first Black woman to lead the department; Civilian Review Board Chair Janet Jackson; civil rights attorney Sean Walton, and Dr. Victor Davis, Pastor of Trinity Baptist Church.
You may register for the event here. Events in other cities will be announced in coming months.
The Heartland Tour is a first step toward fulfilling the first theme of the 21 Pillars: Collaborate with Communities to Build a Restorative System. Communities are truly empowered when public safety institutions engage in public dialogue and commit to structural change.