During the Economic and Racial Unrest, Kentucky Needs Healing

During the Economic and Racial Unrest, Kentucky Needs Healing

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In this ”Our Stories" article, Dr. Oleka shares his sentiments regarding the current racial unrest happening in Kentucky:

In Kentucky, racial and economic strife have led to threats on the life of our Governor, the shooting of several people in Louisville, and rising distrust between segments of the community and law enforcement. I haven’t made much public comment on these things, as I wanted to focus on fatherhood, my job promoting higher education amidst a global pandemic, and — candidly — my sanity as a Black male. For some of you, these conversations are new. For many of us, we’ve been having them for decades.

But staring my multiracial 18-day old daughter in the eyes and knowing she will grow up in a world where these issues are not yet fully resolved, I’ve decided to offer my perspective on how we can come together to respond to the challenges Kentucky faces.

We need healing.

I unequivocally condemn the violence that occurred in Louisville this past week, and I unequivocally condemn the threat of violence against Governor Beshear by way of the protest effigy. I also ask for justice in the death of Breonna Taylor. These are all connected: aggression, racism, destruction, nor incompetence will fix the deep economic and racial wounds our society faces.

Law enforcement is one of the most frightening, important, and difficult careers in the country. Every day you could die and every day you could kill someone. Every day. We must understand that. But we also must understand we need policies that protect our citizens from officers/people who work outside of the law, whether it be through sheer incompetence or racism. If we want to build a better Kentucky, we must make thoughtful, sweeping changes that can both strengthen law enforcement and protect citizens.

We need more officers who work with designated neighborhoods (beat cops) and fewer officers who do not know communities very well (patrol cops) and we need to pay these beat cops well. Beat cops build relationships within the community so when a situation requires law enforcement, both the cops called and the citizens involved know each other. Violent conflict is less likely when you know someone by name and not as a threat.

We need quality training for law enforcement that focuses on de-escalation, relationship building, and bias. This training should not be designed to limit the options an officer has to protect their community, but rather provide additional tools to treat every person as a valued member of society. It also helps build a culture within local law enforcement that can, hopefully, mitigate conflict that leads to violence.

We need to significantly limit, if not outright abolish, no-knock warrants.

We need to change the culture. There is an unfortunate belief held by some that Black people are dangerous. It is in movies, media, and music. It is in the culture. As a result, some people view Black people as an object of fear. I support the second amendment and I support law enforcement but if someone fears someone else because of what they look like and has been given cultural and legal license to quell that fear, they may use that power unlawfully. We must acknowledge and change it.

We need prayer. I pray for justice and healing in our city, state, and nation. A civil society needs strong and protective law enforcement. We also need trust between the justice system and the community it serves and protects, as well as between elected officials and the people they serve. I pray we can get that for everyone, everywhere.

About the Author

Dr. Oj Oleka

Dr. OJ Oleka is a published researcher on educational equity and social capital for low-income students.

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