Central Regional Office
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Central Region Case Highlights
In July 2020, CRS conducted its first virtual stakeholder training after the COVID-19 pandemic made in-person training not practical. A local law enforcement training agency sponsored the virtual training to address the Burlington, Iowa Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer or Questioning (LGBTQ) communities’ ongoing concerns about safety and the need for law enforcement to better understand issues facing the transgender community.
The LGBTQ communities’ concerns stemmed from the March 2016 murder of a gender-fluid Black teenager in Burlington and perceptions about law enforcement’s handling of the case. Prosecutors had charged the perpetrators with murder, foregoing hate crime charges because murder carried the state’s highest possible penalty (a maximum sentence of life in prison). Local transgender community members perceived the decision as a major injustice, caused by the invisibility of transgender individuals in the state, and reached out to the Attorney General, state officials, and local law enforcement calling for hate crime charges to be filed.
As a result of these calls, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Iowa (USAOSDIA) requested support from U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division (CRT) officials, who met with local transgender advocates to discuss their concerns. The experience helped the small and dispersed Iowa communities learn how to make transgender individuals more visible to law enforcement.
During the sentencing process, CRS reached out to local transgender advocates and a statewide LGBTQ advocacy group, to provide information on CRS’s services. As a result, the USAO-SDIA, U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Iowa, and transgender community advocates requested CRS support to educate law enforcement officials throughout the state on civil rights issues impacting transgender Americans and build their capacity to engage with and build relationships with transgender individuals.
In July 2020, CRS virtually facilitated the Engaging and Building Partnerships with Transgender Communities for 25 officers from police departments and sheriffs’ offices across Iowa. CRS adjusted the in-person program for virtual delivery, adapting content to best encourage open discussions and learning online. Law enforcement and LGBTQ subject matter experts presented information on misconceptions that affect the prevention and response to hate crimes against transgender communities and best practices for respectfully communicating with transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals. Participants also discussed strategies for outreach to transgender communities to increase trust and collaboration with their police departments.
In February 2020, CRS conducted a Campus-Site Problem Identification and Resolution of Issues Together (Campus-SPIRIT) program at Kansas State University (K-State) in response to community tensions caused by Black students’ concerns of marginalization on campus and in the community based on race. CRS had already been working with the university to help address prior community concerns stemming back several years.
In 2017, a resident reported finding racist slurs painted on a car near K-State, which caused fear among students and other community members. In response, the university conducted a series of diversity events and hired a chief diversity and inclusion officer, who led university efforts to create KSUnite, a conference on diversity, equity, and inclusion. This annual event strives to create more diverse and inclusive educational opportunities and respond to the race-based issues and tensions at the university.
Through discussions with students, K-State officials determined that the slurs were just one element of an undercurrent of Black student concerns that needed to be addressed. Although local law enforcement had determined that the 2017 incident and another in 2018 involving a racist note posted on an apartment door were hoaxes, school officials felt it was important to respond to the fears and tensions expressed by the university’s Black community. To do so, K-State’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion requested that CRS conduct a Campus-SPIRIT program. In May 2019, CRS, in coordination with the K-State Department of Diversity and Multicultural Student Affairs and the student-led Intercultural Leadership Council, formed a group composed of school administrators, faculty, students, and other key campus leaders to plan the program. CRS provided facilitator training to six student members of the Intercultural Leadership Council who volunteered to help conduct the program.
The SPIRIT program created the opportunity for students to share their concerns about racial tensions on campus and begin the process of identifying solutions. During the session, the K-State vice president for student life/dean of students and the associate vice president for student life delivered opening remarks summarizing their hopes for the Campus-SPIRIT program and the impact that it would have to enable K-State to achieve its diversity, equity, and inclusion goals. The SPIRIT participants— approximately 36 administrators, faculty, staff, and students from various organizations—identified the recruitment and retention of students, staff, and faculty; accessibility; and improvement to KSUnite as priority issues. Volunteers created a SPIRIT council, which developed an action plan to implement some of the proposed solutions, including inviting speakers to campus to address diversity and inclusion topics. In addition, informed by the SPIRIT report, the university developed an nine-point plan to lead to a more inclusive campus environment. The 2020 KSUnite Conference, held in October, included several speakers who addressed diversity and inclusion issues. The university has begun work on several other items, including creating a student ombudsman office and a “Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation” framework, and plans to continue implementing its action plan as soon as COVID-19 social distancing protocols allow meetings to continue.
The Kansas City Branch of the NAACP and the superintendent of the Kearney School District in Kearney, Missouri, separately contacted CRS in June 2019 after several allegations of racist bullying at Kearney High School. Students and parents alleged a pattern of racially motivated harassment and bullying dating back to 2017, including anti-Black targeting and the use of racial slurs on school property, school buses, and social media. Concerned about their children’s safety, the parents expressed an interest in raising awareness and educating members of the school district and community. Prior to reaching out to CRS, the school district had established a diversity, equity and inclusion task force and hired a diversity consultant to work with students, staff, and community in the past. However, school district leaders felt additional work was needed to address school and community concerns. CRS met with school leaders to discuss planning a joint School-Student Problem Identification and Resolution of Issues Together (School-SPIRIT) program for students later that year. In September 2019, a video also spread on social media allegedly showing a white student repeatedly using racial slurs targeting a Black sophomore, leading to heightened racial tensions in the community.
CRS conducted the School-SPIRIT in December 2019 for more than 130 student leaders from Kearney High School and Kearney Junior High School. During the daylong session, students identified racism, bullying, lack of staff diversity, and mental health issues as areas of concern and discussed possible solutions to these issues. Session facilitators included the mayor of Kearney, faith leaders, and local business and community leaders.
Following the program, 28 students volunteered to form a SPIRIT council to implement some of the identified solutions. School leaders and SPIRIT council members committed to identifying the most effective solutions, developing an implementation plan, and following up on the plan’s success. CRS supported the SPIRIT council as it worked to implement solutions, including the planning of a mural to support mental health at the junior high and a school event to promote diversity and mental health. The SPIRIT council also worked with the Kearney Inclusion and Diversity (KIND) committee, formed by the school district to support education and discussion of diversity issues. Additionally, the Kearney mayor and board of aldermen passed a resolution in December 2019 pledging to support the SPIRIT council’s goals and initiatives and commending the Kearney School District for its participation in the SPIRIT program.
In October 2017, African American community leaders in Raytown, Missouri and the Kansas City Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) contacted CRS due to increased community tension following allegations that local law enforcement officers harassed and discriminated against the city’s only African American alderman on the basis of race. According to the allegations, the alderman was harassed during Board of Aldermen meetings and with comments on social media by law enforcement. The group that contacted CRS reported that Raytown’s African American residents felt unsafe in the city as a result of the alleged discrimination and harassment.
Following initial meetings, the Mayor of Raytown and NAACP representatives requested CRS’s assistance to facilitate the review and update of a 2004 CRS-mediated memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the city of Raytown and the Kansas City Branch of the NAACP developed to help de-escalate race-based tensions in the city. CRS first worked with the NAACP separately from the city and the local law enforcement officials and then brought the groups together in mediation sessions and facilitated dialogues to address their concerns about updating the 2004 MOU.
Both the Mayor of Raytown and NAACP’s Kansas City Branch signed an updated MOU, which addressed the parties’ concerns regarding the lack of diversity of city employees and the need for more youth outreach to promote positive interactions between youth and city agencies. The MOU also addressed the allegations of racial profiling by police and the need to form a human relations commission to help resolve police-citizen complaints.
As part of the agreement, the City of Raytown committed to participate in a CRS City-Site Problem Identification and Resolution of Issues Together (City-SPIRIT) program “to invigorate community leaders with a passion for diversity in 2019.” CRS conducted the City-SPIRIT program in September 2019, bringing together approximately 20 participants, including city officials, law enforcement officials, faith leaders, and community groups. Participants discussed the lack of diversity among city employees and the allegations of racial profiling by law enforcement. They worked together to develop solutions to improve communication and minimize the potential for future conflict.
Following the October 2018 Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, interfaith communities in Des Moines, Iowa requested CRS assistance in response to increased tensions among faith communities and concerns about hate crimes and bias incidents at places of worship. Local reports involving swastika graffiti concerned faith communities worried about the potential for a hate crime in Des Moines.
Sparked by a change in the city’s demographics, including an increase in members of Muslim, Arab, Sikh, South Asian, and Hindu (MASSAH) communities, the Des Moines Chief of Police, along with the interfaith communities, requested that CRS conduct a Protecting Places of Worship (PPOW) forum. The Director of Emergency Management for Polk County shared the chief’s goals of proactively conducting outreach to the city’s diverse faith communities, helping all faith communities in the city feel safe and welcome, and improving faith communities’ relationships with the city and the police department.
In February 2019, the Polk County Emergency Management Agency hosted the PPOW forum for law enforcement, municipal government leaders, and interfaith community members to address general safety best practices and community members’ fears in the aftermath of shootings targeting places of worship. The forum included presentations from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Infrastructure Protection; the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa (USAO-SDIA); representatives from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); Scott County Emergency Management Agency; Polk County Emergency Management; Des Moines Police Department; and local interfaith leaders representing the Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, and Christian communities.
CRS convened the chief of police, director of emergency management, community leaders, and faith leaders in a working group to formalize a process for ongoing education about best practices for contingency planning and responding to incidents of bias or hate, including active shooters at places of worship.
In June 2019, local law enforcement officers found the body of a murdered African American transgender woman on the porch of an abandoned home. This homicide, the eleventh in 2019 targeting an African American transgender woman in Kansas City, was reminiscent of the murder of another African American transgender woman which occurred on the same block in 2015. The 2019 homicide intensified fears and concerns among the area’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer or Questioning (LGBTQ) communities. A local LGBTQ youth advocacy organization requested CRS assistance in building stronger relationships with city law enforcement agencies.
Beginning in July 2019, CRS facilitated a series of dialogues with the LBGTQ youth advocacy organization and Kansas City LGBTQ communities. The first dialogue between the parties focused on engaging the city’s transgender communities with the broader Kansas City community. Next, CRS convened dialogues between the LGBTQ youth advocacy organization and local law enforcement to address the communities’ growing concerns about the homicide investigation and the vulnerability of transgender communities. Throughout the summer, CRS also provided consultation services to the parties on best practices to reduce community tensions and improve communications with the city’s LGBTQ communities. The dialogues clarified details on the investigation process and highlighted ways to strengthen the relationship between the city’s law enforcement and LGBTQ communities.
Participants at the dialogues jointly committed to improving relations between law enforcement and LGBTQ communities and forming an LGBTQ and law enforcement working group. The working group agreed on conducting a CRS Engaging and Building Relationships with Transgender Communities training. On September 17 and 18, 2019, CRS conducted the training for local law enforcement officers, working with local advocacy groups and law enforcement. During the training, transgender advocacy groups shared a brief presentation and other resources, in addition to the training materials and resources provided by CRS. The working group continues to meet quarterly to address law enforcement-community relations, enhance mutual trust, and increase collaboration.
In 2017, in Blue Springs, Missouri, racial graffiti was found on the window of an African American-owned barber shop. Within days of that incident, an African American student at a local high school discovered a racial slur written on one of her papers, while other African American students reported that certain students referred to a hallway area where they congregated as “Africa.”
The incidents caused tension in the Blue Springs community, and city officials contacted CRS for assistance. To help the community address the situation, CRS first worked with school administrators, faculty, and students to facilitate three School-SPIRIT programs at Blue Springs high schools from September to October 2017. The programs allowed students to discuss their concerns around issues such as bullying, teacher-student relationships, and mental health, and play an active role in identifying and implementing solutions to the underlying racial problems in their schools.
Based on the success of the School-SPIRIT programs, which received positive feedback from the community, city officials also requested that CRS facilitate a City-SPIRIT program to engage the broader Blue Springs community in dialogue, information sharing, and problem solving to address the city’s racial tension. CRS facilitated the Blue Springs City-SPIRIT program in January 2018 with leaders from diverse sectors in the community, including business owners, city officials, residents, public safety officials, student leaders, and school district officials.
The participants discussed concerns and future challenges in addressing the racial problems in the city. Following the discussions, participants agreed to form a SPIRIT Council to implement the recommendations developed during the program and to continue working to create greater unity in the Blue Springs community.
In September 2017, CRS worked with local officials and community groups to maintain peace following the acquittal of a white St. Louis police officer accused of murdering Anthony Lamar Smith, an African American male. Prior to the verdict, local officials were concerned that the outcome of the trial would spark community tension and violence.
In anticipation of protests, CRS facilitated meetings with local law enforcement, community leaders, faith-based groups, and civil rights organizations. The purpose of the meetings was to open a dialogue between stakeholders to strengthen community relations prior to the anticipated protests and to share best practices to support public safety during demonstrations.
The verdict led to multiple protests in the city of St. Louis and St. Louis County. While some of the protests resulted in arrests, CRS’s support helped local officials ensure many of the protests remained peaceful. After the protests subsided, CRS continued to provide services by identifying key leaders in the community and state and city governments to engage in future dialogues to promote peace in the community.