OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Mayor Jean Stothert says she has vivid memories of the Friday night that protests broke out in the city of Omaha.
“That night I remember like it happened this morning,” said the mayor.
She remembers consistent updates from the police chief and that, as the protests moved downtown, she worried for the business owners, police and the protesters themselves.
“It was frightening, I will tell you for me, to understand what was going on in the city because I wanted people to be safe,” said Stothert.
Once the dust settled, she got to work with Chief Todd Schmaderer, putting in new policies like requiring officers to intervene.
Stothert also says the department was already doing things protesters wanted.
That includes the ban of chokeholds and a using system that flags potentially problematic officers.
“That officer up in Minnesota wouldn’t have been an officer in Omaha, Nebraska,” said Stothert.
She said the overall message of the 2020 protests in Omaha was productive and she truly heard what they were saying.
“What our approach was: we listened, we learned, we don’t want to repeat our past mistakes, and we tried to develop a plan for the future that’s community-based,” said Stothert.
During and after the protests, she says she attempted to engage with some of the activists, including a sit-down meeting in her office with one of the leaders.
She also met with protesters outside city hall in the middle of the summer protests.
“I thought I’m going to go out there and listen to them, and talk to them, I’ll do it myself. And I just got up, grabbed myself and said 'We’re going to go out there,'” said Stothert.
And it didn’t go as she hoped.
“I was cussed out, sworn at, spit on. I was called all sorts of vulgar and profane names and I was out there to listen,” said Stothert.
She also recalls when she delivered the budget to the city council, and said in no uncertain terms that she would not defund the police, which angered many attending the meeting.
“I was interrupted no less than 15 times by people yelling profane, vulgar, language at me while I’m trying to present the budget to the city council, that doesn’t help the communication at all,” said Stothert.
She says dialogue on tough issues like police reform needs to be civil.
“I’m willing to talk to anybody about it but the conversation has to be at least respectful, it has to go both ways,” said Stothert.
This year, Stothert easily won another term as mayor with one of her campaign tenets being an inclusive city.
In mid-May, the Omaha City Council unanimously passed her resolution condemning hate in all forms.
She also hired a deputy chief of staff, with a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion last year.
She says the man she hired, Keith Station, will continue to work to show, if the city government can be inclusive, the rest of the Omaha business community can also be.
“Everything from our hiring practices to our testing that we do to our recruit classes, we want to be an example for all businesses in Omaha,” said Stothert.
With another four-year term on the horizon for Stothert, she says she’ll continue to be open to dialogue, all to make the city better.
“If you’re going to be better you have to work together, it’s not just one-sided. It can never just be one-sided,” said Stothert.