Commission prepares to take on police reform, racial justice in Kansas

Capitol Bureau

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article failed to mention that the commission was co-chaired by Dr. Tiffany Anderson and Dr. Shannon Portillo.

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNW) – In response to the death of George Floyd and the widespread protests that followed, Governor Laura Kelly has created the Commission on Racial Equity and Justice.

According to the Governor, the goal of the 12-person commission is to develop and recommend policy changes that will create a lasting impact for people of color in Kansas.

“As Governor, I am committed to ensuring this latest tragedy does not fade into the next news cycle. Communities of color do not have the luxury of time for leaders to address these issues,” Gov. Laura Kelly said.

The commission is comprised of 7 Blacks, 2 Hispanics, 2 Whites and 1 Native American. Commission members represent varying backgrounds and locations.

John Nave, Executive Vice President of the Kansas AFL-CIO, was asked by the Governor to sit on the commission. He says racial injustice is not new, it’s just being recorded now.

“I think I was a freshman in high school and we got stopped by the police…and he detained us and asked us…a 110 questions,” remembered Nave. “My mother just said, ‘give very little information’, my brother-in-law said the same. I’ve also had to have that tough discussion with my sons and my children.”

Nave says he hopes this commission will help change that discussion by developing new laws on police training and what happens if an officer uses excessive force.

“Officers are there to serve and protect. Even when they put the cuffs on you, their job is now to protect this individual from harm. If you’re consistent with that, you get a lot more respect from the community,” explained Nave. “At the end of the day, they have to have accountability.”

Also on the commission is Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay. As of right now, Ramsay is the only member of active law enforcement on the commission. He has tweeted his support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Dr. Anthony Lewis, Superintendent of Lawrence Public Schools, USD 497, in Kansas, is also on the commission. He agrees that police reform should, and likely will be, the first topic the commission takes action on, but he adds that other topics, like creating equity in Kansas schools, are also important.

“Depending on where you live, can be the difference of education that you receive,” explained Lewis. “It takes courage, it takes courageous leadership, to make some sound decisions that will benefit all children involved.”

Lewis adds that he wants the work of the commission to have a long-term impact for all Kansans.

“I want people to look back and say, you know, because of some of the decisions that we made in 2020, it will benefit people that are coming years after we’re gone,” said Lewis.

The commission will be co-chaired by Dr. Tiffany Anderson, Superintendent of Topeka Public Schools USD 501, and Dr. Shannon Portillo, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs KU Edwards Campus & School of Professional Studies. Members of the commission represent the higher education, legal and religious fields, among others. See the full list of commission members below:

  • Secretary DeAngela Burns-Wallace, Topeka – Kansas Department of Administration
  • Dr. Brandon Davis, Lawrence, Assistant Professor – University of Kansas
  • Ernestor De La Rosa, Dodge City, Assistant City Manager – City of Dodge City
  • Mark Dupree, Wyandotte, District Attorney – Wyandotte County
  • David Jordan, Hutchinson, President & CEO – United Methodist Health Ministry Fund
  • Dr. Anthony Lewis, Lawrence, Superintendent – USD 497 Lawrence
  • Mark McCormick, Johnson County, Director of Strategic Communications – Kansas ACLU
  • John Nave, Topeka, Executive Vice President – Kansas AFL-CIO
  • Chief Gordon Ramsay, Wichita, Chief of Police – Wichita Police Department
  • Catalina Velarde, Overland Park, Attorney and Adjunct Professor – UMKC School of Law, Johnson County
  • Jackson Winsett, Kansas City, Assistant Vice President – Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City
  • A representative of the Native American tribes of Kansas, to be selected by tribal leadership

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