We were already bad off with Covid
We had people without jobs, who were looking to community resources to help make ends meet and feed themselves. Nonprofits in North Omaha and other philanthropy organizations were coming together and bonding with our allies to get people through this time. And the giving was open and well received. The protests began and things shifted, but we were still taking care of our people.
And then the night of May 30 happened.
I was at home that Saturday night, tuned into Facebook Live feeds and police scanner activity to keep up with the protests. I noticed that police were funneling people towards downtown and I became nervous. I was scared for North Omaha. You’re starting to see them shift people; by the bank, the courthouse, 10th Street, toward the old Civic Auditorium grounds.
At this point I’m showered and dressed with my shoes on. I didn’t think I could stop people but I wanted to be ready to mobilize if necessary.
They didn’t come to North Omaha that night. But someone had been shot. The next morning you got his name: James Scurlock. He’s a product of a North Omaha family. He’s one of ours. We know his family.
How, as a neighborhood, do you respond?
By Monday, Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine announced he wouldn’t press charges against James’ killer. And those days in between we learned a lot about what kind of person his killer was.
Not long after, I was in a meeting with Mayor Jean Stothert, Gov. Pete Ricketts and Chief of Police Todd Schmaderer which included pastors and other leadership. I wasn’t sure of the purpose of the meeting. I don’t think they were either. It appeared city leaders wanted to repair race relations but that’s not what was really happening. There were people on Facebook talking about going to North Omaha and busting windows, and people there were scared, but North Omaha was left wide open to that kind of attack. I thought the meeting was to strategize. We know the community is upset, we were already fresh on the death of George Floyd and then Kleine sided with James’ killer. So we’re processing police brutality, we’re processing racial tensions and now a murder by a known and outed racist and I’m scared.
We were also very concerned about outside agitators coming into North Omaha. We wanted a sense of normalcy and we wanted to be there for the Scurlock family. So many people reached out asking what they could do to help, how the neighborhood could be there for James’ daughter. Our community always comes together to protect and make sure we take care of our people. The thing I love about North Omaha is that we truly are a melting pot, whether people know that or not. North Omaha is greater than so many other places in the city because we represent so many different types of people.
People also ask why we didn’t do the march in North Omaha. We saw what happened on 72nd and Dodge streets when a peaceful protest devolved into violence because a few people had a different agenda. We didn’t want to invite that into our neighborhood. So we did a walk up Dodge Street which stopped every lane of traffic. We had the National Guard there, and when you think of National Guard you think of the Watts Riots, you think of Hurricane Katrina. You think of big events that tailspun into riots. But during the march, we came over that hill on Dodge Street and the National Guard just stood there and cheered us on. And then when we got to Memorial Park, they were handing out water. That’s what we would have hoped for from the police response as well.
We saw that there was a greater good here in Nebraska and people want us to be safe. I acknowledged then that we have a long way to go and we can get there but people have to understand what North Omaha really stands for. They need to take their blinders off when it comes to community outside of their own.