Gov. Laura Kelly should be commended for establishing a Commission on Racial Equity and Justice. After recent deaths of Black people at the hands of law enforcement, a national outcry has created a civil rights groundswell.
We haven’t seen this kind of public engagement since the 1960s, and by all indications, it’s not going away anytime soon.
Therein lies the challenge for the commission.
This group of respected activists, advocates and officials should aim to create a list of proposals that truly tackles the challenges we face. The time has come for bold thinking and serious action, both from the panel and from Kelly.
While some on the streets have called for defunding or abolishing police departments, we doubt such an approach would be popular here.
But there are certainly discussions to be had about how law enforcement agencies are funded and what their primary mission should be. How much time do officers spend dealing with people undergoing mental health challenges or addiction issues, for instance?
This is only scratching the surface, of course. What about systems in place that reduce opportunities for people of color? School systems largely funded by local property taxes can underserve some while offering amazing opportunities for others. What about the neighborhoods where people live, work and play?
The pernicious effects of racism infiltrate our society. Sometimes they’re nearly invisible, such as when applicants for a job are discriminated against based on how their names sound to those doing the screening. At other times, when violence breaks out, they’re all too visible for all of us to see.
These are difficult topics. They provoke difficult conversations.
But the worst possible outcome of the commission would be to avoid them. We have a chance right now, in the present, to dig into the uncomfortable truths facing Black Kansans and other people of color in our state. What are their realities? What are their lives like? How can we create a more just and equitable state?
Making this change requires more than calling a commission. It requires commitment to listening to what that commission says. It requires commitment to advocating for the changes it recommends. It requires commitment for allocating resources or spending money to do what it takes to make a more perfect union.
It won’t be easy. But our desire for easy answers, to avoid what’s uncomfortable, has led us to this place. We must commit to a different path.