Lincoln Mayor, Pastor, and State Senator Discuss Protests, Causes, Solutions

June 4, 2020, 6:10 p.m. ·

Pastor John Harris, NET News Director Dennis Kellogg, State Senator Justin Wayne, and Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird (Photo by Bill Anderson, NET)

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An end to systemic racism and a search for practical solutions are among topics discussed in a special edition of Speaking of Nebraska Thursday.

Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird, state Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha, and Lincoln pastor John Harris discuss the current protests, the reasons behind them, and the path forward in the program. Gaylor Baird was asked about changing police tactics. She said as mayor she had to keep people safe. But she said Lincoln police, who used tear gas and rubber bullets last weekend, have learned lessons about de-escalating.

“We’ve all learned a way to deescalate involves not showing up in ways that visually antagonize a crowd. They have stayed inside the buildings and we’ve seen better results and better opportunity for our peaceful protestors to amplify their message free from those who were taking advantage of that moment to express their anger in ways that were destruction,” Gaylor Baird.

Harris is originally from Ferguson, Missouri and went back to see the situation when that town erupted after the shooting of Michael Brown in 2014. He said he’s trying to prevent the kind of destruction he saw there.

“That’s what happened in Ferguson. People came from outside and they began to create this mob mentality and then burned up the places where now people still don’t have shopping, food, gas, whatever. They still don’t have those places. So they come in and they mess it up for the people who actually live there. And so I said to the young people on Saturday night ‘Don’t let that happen here,’” he said.

Wayne said a lot of the frustration being expressed is the result of what he called the “tentacles” of racism – things people may not even be conscious of. He gave an example of contracting to construct a building.

“Typically, people call their best friends ‘Hey, I’m working on this project, help me out. Well, people who look like me have never been in the room at the country club in the ‘70s and ‘80s to build those family relationships. And so people are looking at that like, well, ‘I’m not racist. I just don’t know anybody. But that’s not your fault as the business owner – you were born in that situation. You didn’t go out and do anything overtly or covertly to be racist. It’s just the natural tentacles of racism. And I think what I hear from young people is ‘I don’t know how to get over that,” Wayne said.

Gaylor Baird says she’s impressed by the protestors, and their message.

“They’re so committed, even though they’re tired, to making sure everyone hears their message that black lives matter. That white people have work to do and they shouldn’t depend on black people to do that work for them. And that we have systemic inequalities in America that prevent people from having equal opportunities. And so they’re looking to end racial injustice, to end systemic oppression. And they want people to walk with them.

Editor’s note: The full discussion with Gaylor Baird, Wayne and Harris is the first of part of a special edition of Speaking of Nebraska. The second part is Nebraskans sharing their personal stories of how the coronavirus pandemic has affected them. Watch the full episode below.