When Larry Lee, co-chair of the Newton Community for Racial Justice group, read a statement — dubbed "enough is enough" — publicly for the first time, he knew there was a sentence or two that would get attention.
"It is easy to believe that in a community like this there are no issues, but there are," Lee said.
At one point while reading the statement, which was published June 18 in The Newton Kansan and republished at the end of this article, he paused.
"Get ready," Lee said.
He read on:
"We call for a systematic review of Newton's Use of Force Policy involving the Newton Police Department, the North Newton Police Department, the Harvey County Sheriff's Office, as well as other Police Departments in Harvey County along with a community group comprised of the various ethnic and racial groups in our city and county."
That was a part of the statement that Lee took very seriously — and he detailed how that review he and the group were calling for should be performed.
"We want the review to be by a community group that is comprised of various ethnic and racial groups in our life, in our city and our county," Lee said. "We want to work with you, but we want to verify."
There is a community group available, the Law Enforcement Advisory Panel, in Newton. That group is comprised of community members and is designed to serve as "a bridge between the police and community members," with an eye on community members who might feel profiled — no matter what reason they may feel that has happened to them. Their next meeting will be 7 p.m. June 23 at the Newton Activity Center, 415 N. Poplar.
According to community LEAP member Gloria Arellano, LEAP has started a review of Newton’s 8CantWait policy. An 8CantWait policy bans choke/strangle holds, requires de-escalation tactics, requires warning shots prior to shooting, requires exhausting all other means before firing a lethal weapon, creates a duty to intervene for bystanding officers, a ban on firing shots at moving vehicles, a use of force continuum and comprehensive reporting requirements.
NCRJ is also calling for more community policing — calling specifically for officers to get out of patrol cars and walk through communities.
"One of the things I have discovered is that if I know you, it is awfully hard to hate you," Lee said. "It is much easier to hate someone I do not know."
The death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a police officer in Minneapolis, Minn., knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 minutes, was listed as a boiling point by the NCRJ in its statement.
For Lee, it was a reminder of daily life — and how he has raised his sons.
He, like many other Black parents, have had a talk with their children about how to act and what to do when confronted by police.
"I am the father of two sons. ... You have heard of them having to have ’the talk?’ I’m a preacher. My poor boys did not hear the talk once. They heard the talk over, and over, and over and over again. And my two grandsons will have to hear that same talk," Lee said. "It breaks my heart."
He spoke at a rally last week and has watched as rallies calling for social justice have swept across the nation in the past few weeks.
Those events, he said, give him hope.
"I see, more than ever, not just people of color by whites, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asians all walking together in cities and communities throughout America demanding change," Lee said. "Change requires all of us working together."
"Enough is Enough," a statement by Newton Community for Racial Justice
Our pain, our cries, and our need to be seen and heard resonate throughout this entire country.
We call for acknowledgment and accountability for the devaluation and dehumanization of Black life at the hands of the police.
We call for radical, sustainable solutions that affirm the equal treatment of and respect for Black lives.
George Floyd’s violent death was a breaking point — an all too familiar reminder that, for Black people, law enforcement doesn’t always protect or save our lives. They often threaten and take them.
We call for an end to the systemic racism that allows this culture of corruption to go unchecked and our lives to be taken.
We call for a systematic review of Newton's Use of Force Policy involving the Newton Police Department, the North Newton Police Department, the Harvey County Sheriff's Office, as well as other Police Departments in Harvey County along with a community group comprised of the various ethnic and racial groups in our city and county.
We call for more community policing in our city. This would take police officers out of cars and walking within the community, allowing them to take an active role in the community.
We call for a state-wide examination of our police, court, prison and school cultures that have people of color imprisoned at a far greater rate than our population in the state -- for both adults and juveniles.
We call for our elected officials to reject White Supremacy and to represent the needs of Black, Brown, Asian and Native American residents of our community.
We call for justice and we join with others working for the same goal.