Local leaders are speaking out following the death of George Floyd and the subsequent unrest.
Floyd is a black man who died May 25 in Minneapolis after a knee was placed into his neck for several minutes by a white police officer.
Four police officers have been fired in Minneapolis as a result of the incident and they face criminal charges.
Floyd’s death has sparked protests across the country, some of which have been violent.
During a Leavenworth City Commission meeting Tuesday, Mayor Mike Griswold read a statement which extended the city commissioners’ sympathies to Floyd’s family.
“His death, as well as other African Americans who have died because of police brutality, is a tragedy for every community across our nation, including Leavenworth,” Griswold said, reading the statement. “Our hope is that Mr. Floyd’s death serves as a catalyst for real and lasting reform in the nation’s policing practices and criminal justice system.”
Reading the statement, Griswold said city commissioners “will continue to do our very best to set the conditions within our city in which every citizen is treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. In this regard, we accept our responsibility to address instances of unequal treatment of Leavenworth citizens, whether it be in their interactions with police officers, the criminal justice system or both.”
Griswold asked his fellow commissioners for a consensus of support of the statement.
The other four commissioners indicated they supported the statement.
Griswold spoke from Leavenworth City Hall. But the other commissioners participated from other locations using a videoconferencing service.
City Commissioner Jermaine Wilson asked that commissioners continue to stand together and “address the racism that is inside of our country.”
“I thank God that we are able to stand together and not be afraid to address this issue,” Wilson continued. “As an African American, it’s been painful. I’ve dealt with the racism. But I refuse to stop moving forward. I refuse to stop fighting this good fight, and I will stand together along with my city commissioners.”
Wilson spoke again Wednesday during a virtual town hall meeting hosted by Griswold.
The town hall meeting was lived-streamed on the city’s Facebook page and also aired on a local government access channel.
“We cannot deny the fact that racism still exists in our country today,” Wilson said Wednesday.
When people use the term Black Lives Matter, it does not mean the lives of other people do not matter, he said.
“The statement simply means, stop killing us because of the color of our skin,” Wilson said.
Wilson said Floyd’s death has broken the country. He said people have to heal and grow together in order to be united as one.
Leavenworth Police Chief Pat Kitchens also spoke during Wednesday’s town hall meeting.
He said all members of the Leavenworth Police Department have expressed anger and disgust about what happened to Floyd.
“It just simply is something that cannot be tolerated,” he said.
Kitchens said the burden of change rests with law enforcement officers.
“This is a burden that all police officers bear across the country,” he said.
He said people within the Leavenworth Police Department have reviewed every aspect of the department since Floyd’s death and will continue to do so.
On Tuesday, a solid black image was posted on the Leavenworth Police Department’s Facebook page.
Many recognized Tuesday at Black Out Tuesday.
Deputy Police Chief Dan Nicodemus said the image was posted on the Police Department’s Facebook page as a way of showing support for others.
“We wanted to show our support and solidarity with everyone,” he said.
During a County Commission meeting Wednesday, Commission Chairman Doug Smith read a proclamation that does not mention Floyd’s death but states the county “is comprised of citizens who desire peace, equality and true justice for all.”
The proclamation also states “the development of policies and practices that address common issues such as discrimination, racism and safety are best addressed collaboratively in ways that serve all people.”
The proclamation also states county commissioners and “members of our law enforcement community are committed to providing for the safety and well-being of its citizens regardless of race, ethnicities, sex, gender, beliefs, and culture.”
The proclamation designates Saturday as Unity Day.
A Unity Walk is planned for Saturday morning in Leavenworth.
The event is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. at the Richard Allen Cultural Center, 412 Kiowa St.
Organizers are asking people to park at Bob Dougherty Park, 800 N. Second St., and walk to the Richard Allen Cultural Center if possible.
Griswold said during Wednesday’s town hall meeting that the Unity Walk is being sponsored by the Leavenworth County branch of the NAACP and the local Unity in the Community organization.
Wilson, who is the founder of the local Unity in the Community Movement, spoke about the Unity Walk during the town hall meeting.
He said the event will be a peaceful protest.
“We will not tolerate any violence,” he said.
He said the route for the walk will be announced soon.
Griswold said participants will try to maintain as much social distancing as possible. He recommended that participants wear masks to help reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus.
“I look forward to it and I think many of our citizens look forward to that event this Saturday,” Griswold said.