Opinion Columns & Blogs

Help bridge economic, racial divide

Long-term mistrust between police and communities of color continues to this day.
Long-term mistrust between police and communities of color continues to this day.

For generations, communities of color have faced disparities in health care, education, employment, arrests and incarceration. Long-standing policies and practices have created a racial and economic divide.

Over history and in recent times, police-related issues have become the flash point with communities of color, in particular the African-American community. Long-term mistrust between police and communities of color continues to this day, and every effort should be made to make concrete reforms in addressing this critical issue for the health of our community.

Now is the time for police to help lead the way in furthering accountability and transparency along with a conscious effort to recognize and help address the economic divide within these communities.

According to the Economic Innovation Group, Wichita ZIP code 67214 is the seventh most unequal area in America. Poverty runs rampant in northeast Wichita, which has a 56 percent unemployment rate, 63 percent high school graduation rate, low homeownership, a median income of just $21,000, the highest violence rate in the city, and the highest infant mortality rate in the country. Issues of misguided policies, poverty and mental illness are straining police resources and are positioning officers to be the weekly news story.

Last month community leaders and police came together to discuss policies and practices that disproportionately impact the poor and communities of color. We also discussed the historical distrust of law enforcement that leads many to feel government doesn’t care about them. The time has come to work together to fix and create policies with which everyone feels safe and valued.

As leaders in our community, we will continue to work together to make a lasting impact in Wichita.

The reforms announced earlier this month are a first step toward addressing these issues.

The citizens’ review board will be an added tool in assisting police to help shape policy and response as needed in crisis situations. Cultural competency and diversity training will serve to further educate officers on the different cultures they may encounter in Wichita. Community members and police will also work together to gain legislation for independent prosecutorial review of officer-involved shootings, which will lead to more oversight, accountability and trust.

Police can solve only some of these issues. The best solutions will be developed through listening to the concerns of the disadvantaged and communities of color in Wichita and creating and implementing policies to address those concerns.

Wichita is home to all of us, and we must make every effort to make everyone feel at home.

Gordon Ramsay is police chief of Wichita. Djuan Wash is a juvenile justice reform advocate with the Kansas Appleseed Center for Law and Justice.