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Omaha City Council discusses racism, affirmative action at Tuesday meeting

Posted at 2:25 PM, Jul 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-14 23:24:54-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Omaha's city council addressed issues of race head-on at their meeting Tuesday.

Two specific resolutions were discussed and many community members spoke in support of both.

"Today ladies and gentlemen, we are going to have a conversation about racism," Council member Ben Gray said.

It was a first of its kind public forum as citizens discussed racial issues at the meeting.

"This is an issue that's been going on for years," Citizen Lionel Quinn said. "When are we really going to take it serious? How are we going to take it serious? Resolutions don't fix the issue, it's what's inside that fixes the issue."

Council member Pete Festersen introduced a resolution to develop action steps tackling racism, inequality, community-police relations and economic disparities in communities of color.

Dozens shared injustices they've faced in the city.

"While I appreciate the Omaha Police Department, I feel that a systematic change is overdue," Citizen Shaekell Butler said. "I believe that this is possible through more education and training specifically in psychology and dismantling racial bias."

Jasmine Harris, a director at RISE, says city leaders must not only listen, but be willing to do the work.

"Reach out to us to attend meaningful, strategic planning meetings that will result in action steps," Harris said. "Thank you for this platform, but let's do this in a setting where action versus time limited conversations are the end goal."

The conversations didn't end there.

Councilmen Ben Gray introduced a resolution asking the council to urge Nebraska lawmakers to put affirmative action on the ballot.

The state banned affirmative action in 2008.

"I'm here to support the resolution to repeal the ban on affirmative action because there's a very strong possibility that I would not have even been hired as a police officer if not for an affirmative action," Urban League President and former Omaha Police Cheif Thomas Warren said.

Sheena Glover also spoke, she's the fourth Black woman in the history of the Omaha Fire Department.

"The fire department as we know was established in 1860 and I am one of two Black females currently standing," Glover said. "I was told by a fire captain once early in my career that because I was Black I would have to work 10 times harder than everyone else and I still wouldn't be on the same playing field."

But, for many in the older generation, like community activist and college professor Preston Love, it's a discussion that's all too familiar.

"I need you to know that I'm tired of standing before boards and commissions and people talking about the same things over and over," Love said.

"We have to understand that we have an obligation to each other," Gray said. "To correct the wrongs that have been done in this community for centuries.

Festersen's resolution passed unanimously.

Gray's passed 5-1, Council Member Harding voted against it.

Watch below.

Reporter Sydney Gray will have more at 10 p.m.

See tweets from the meeting below.