Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert announced the creation of a board to deal with issues that arose from the tasering and death of a man who was killed in Omaha on June 5th.
Stothert and Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer met with an upset group of Native American leaders on June 28th to address the tensions stemming from the in-custody death of an unarmed Native American, 29-year-old Zachary Bearheels, who died after Omaha police officers tased him, punched him, and dragged him by his hair.
Stothert said the group of Native Americans originally asked for the meeting to get answers and understanding on the lack of sensitivity shown to Bearheels.
“It was shown that police officers had pulled Zachary Bearheels’ hair, and that is considered sacred in Indian culture – the hair. That’s just something you just don’t do,” said Stothert. “Having direct eye contact can also be offensive. We didn’t know that. So it’s important that we know these things so we can be more culturally sensitive.”
To support the Native American community, which Stothert says is often overlooked, she suggested creating a Native American Advisory Board – a board that would work directly with her and her staff to tackle the needs of Native Americans in Omaha.
The meeting included a few members of the Native American community, as well as Schmaderer, and City Councilman, Ben Gray.
“We didn’t know how the meeting was really going to go. But we quickly realized there’s some issues specific to the Native American culture that a lot of our police and my staff are not aware of,” said Stothert.
Stothert said as the meeting went on, she and Schmaderer realized more needed to be done with dealing with and being sensitive to Native Americans beyond this once incident.
Stothert is now working with her staff and legal team to figure out the bylaws and set requirements for the board so they can begin to deliver the support she told the group they’d receive from her office.
Schmaderer will also implement training on Native American culture sensitivity to educate officers on the cultural customs of this specific group. He and a Native American physician are working together to develop a curriculum.
“I think everyone at the meeting left very pleased. And now we have a plan,” added Stothert. “Now we just need to get organized and move forward.”