This story is part of a package published before the May 2021 City of Omaha General Elections. Read all the personal perspectives on issues ailing Omaha here.

“When are we going to start thinking of other alternatives? When are we going to start investing in our communities?” asked “Bear” Alexander Matthews, community activist and co-founder of the Revolutionary Action Party, an Omaha-based group advocating for prison and police abolition.

Millions like Matthews turned out to protests last summer following the death of George Floyd. Then the world watched a jury convict Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for murdering Floyd, sending a signal that maybe, reform is possible.

However, some are skeptical.

“I feel nothing. My communities are still vacant, I still see vacant lots everywhere. My communities are still impoverished. I just heard 20 gunshots last night or two nights ago,” said Matthews. “So… I see no improvements, I see a sacrificial lamb that they fed to the masses to attempt to satiate our dying hunger for liberation, but we will not be satisfied.”

In Omaha, the call to defund and hold police accountable yielded an increased police budget and police union contract-extension. With fire and police taking up more than 60% of the city’s budget, community leaders see a clear disdain for neighborhood investment.

According to Matthews, who canvasses with the Revolutionary Action Party, the people of North Omaha take notice.

“We’re asking the community members what they feel like is the biggest problem in the community right now,” said Matthews. “The community is begging for help. And what does our city council say? And what does our mayor say? Oh, we just need more policing!”

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Read the full stories here.

At the state level, legislators are working to advance police reform by creating a police use-of-force database as well as adding de-escalation training and mental health requirements to the hiring process.

But many like Matthews say that’s not enough. According to a 2020 New York Times article, “How Do the Police Actually Spend Their Time?”, only about 4% of police calls are violent in nature.

Matthews said the current policing system is dehumanizing and needs to be replaced. Without examining what causes individuals to commit crime, reform will never work.

“In order to abolish the police, we need to defund them, and after defunding them, invest in the communities. By investing in the communities, we will see the lack of need to commit these crimes,” he said. “So what we need to stress about abolition is one, abolition does not stop at destruction, it starts at restriction, and it starts at restoration.”

The Revolutionary Action Party website describes programs like CAHOOTS in Eugene, Oregon, and STAR in Denver as “models of beginning [the] process of abolition.” These programs, and others such as MACRO in Oakland, California, use a community-service-centric philosophy to send non-violent calls that would be otherwise answered by police to mental health and family service professionals.

Although the conversation will not end with one election, Omahans will get to see where the city stands on the issue on May 11.


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