Many things have happened in the last few days that should signal hope for race relations across this nation. In Omaha, City Councilman, Ben Gray; County Commissioner, Chris Rodgers; Mayor, Jean Stothert; Governor, Pete Ricketts; and Douglas County Attorney, Don Kleine, two Republicans and three Democrats, agreed to support the filing of a petition to ask for a grand jury investigation and special prosecutor to look into the death of James Scurlock, who was killed during a protest in the Old Market on Saturday night. Kleine will file for that petition this morning.
The important thing is that after some pretty strong words, collectively the group put aside their emotions to do the right thing. All of them could have dug in their heels for one reason or another and added to the controversy, but they didn’t. They said, let’s do this together and clear the air for Omaha and Nebraska.
One of the most compelling statements of the week came from Iowa football coach, Kirk Ferentz. Addressing his team this week he said, "I want to start this meeting by talking about the events of the past week, and the reactions that have taken place here on campus, in the Midwest and around the world. I spoke about this on the voice mail you all received Saturday morning, but I feel like there is more to say.
"Some of you have commented that I haven’t had anything posted on our social media channels yet. That is deliberate. I want my first conversations about this to be with you and your families. Then it can be shared with the outside world. But you are always my first priority.
"I’m going to talk about this with you now, and then you’ll be getting an email from me so you can read them again. You can share that with your parents, family and friends if you wish. As you know, a man named George Floyd died in Minneapolis last week. He was arrested by police for suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill. While he was handcuffed and laying on the ground, a police officer kneeled on Mr. Floyd’s neck. Mr. Floyd pleaded and said he could not breathe. The officer and the three other officers did nothing. Nothing. Mr. Floyd cried out for his mother. And the police officers did nothing. George Floyd later died.
"I have watched that video. It is brutal and painful. It’s heartbreaking. And the lack of action by the other officers is maddening and makes them complicit.
"George Floyd’s death sparked outrage and calls for change nationwide. You can’t be human and not be affected by that video. I’m sure that many of you felt the same way I did — heartbroken, frustrated, angry. There have been racial problems in this country for generations. There has been discrimination, resentment and mistrust for a long time. I hoped by now we would be better at relationships when it comes to race — but this week shows we have a long way to go.
"I am a white football coach. I cannot begin to imagine what it is like to be pulled over for driving while black or to have people cross the street because they don’t want to walk alongside of you.
"But some of your coaches have shared that experience. I know it is real and it happens. If things are going to change, it will be up to all of us as individuals to be a part of the change. As a team, we can help lead it. Here is how we’re going to make an impact — in this time of such anguish and emotion, we are going to be better listeners. Not just hearing from others but listening and trying our best to understand where another opinion is coming from.
"In our program, we talk about preparing to be the best. Here’s the truth — that’s not just as a player on a Saturday. We’re all here to prepare you to be the best version of yourself. Teaching all of you — our players how to be an impactful member of society. These are painful times for our nation and community. One of the most important traits a leader can demonstrate is the ability to listen. To always have an attitude of learning.
"In our program we will use this time to listen, understand and grow as individuals and as a team. Change will begin with us."
The only way you solve big problems is through earnest cooperation. Our Omaha leadership stepped up to do just that this week, and the coach of our cross-river rival helped light the way. Now, are you ready to do your part?
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