WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom assured civil rights activists Wednesday that their complaints are “not falling on deaf ears” as he outlined steps his office and others are taking to open talks with racially diverse communities, take illegal guns off the streets and better train law enforcement officers.
His remarks came at a civil rights symposium in Wichita attended by about 100 law enforcement officials and community advocates.
“This provides us an opportunity to have dialogue and talk about things that might otherwise divide us,” Grissom told them.
The daylong event played out against the backdrop of racial tensions in neighboring Missouri in the wake of the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson.
Michael Birzer, director of Wichita State University’s School of Community Affairs, analyzed traffic citations issued to 25,074 drivers in Wichita between November 2012 and April 2013 and found a disproportionate number of citations issued to black drivers. But he said he could not conclude racial profiling was the cause.
His study found that while blacks in Wichita comprise about 11.3 percent of the population, they were issued nearly 22 percent of traffic tickets. Whites, who make up 74.1 percent of the population, received 59.6 percent of the citations. Hispanics, who comprise 9.6 percent of the population, got 11.5 percent of the traffic tickets.
Grissom also told the group that the rate of incarceration in Wichita will be decreasing some under an initiative by the Justice Department that would give nonviolent offenders an opportunity to avoid a felony record if they stay out of trouble. The government also is considering presidential clemency for elderly inmates and others who have been imprisoned for years.
Among the suggestions that emerged from the event was a greater community push for an increase in the budget to buy more body cameras for police officers as a way to protect both citizens and officers during encounters.
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