By Mark Reagan
Protestors crowded the corner of 72nd and Dodge streets during rush hour traffic Friday, Nov. 9. Holding sign accusing the Omaha Police Department of brutality, the protesters were joined by UNO’s recently created American Civil Liberties Union chapter as legal observers.Travis McAurther, a member of UNO’s student ACLU chapter, said, “Our goal here is to show presence at protests where our presence is requested. We are neutral observers. We make sure everyone is safe and everyone is okay.”
The protest was in response to several recent allegations of police brutality in Omaha, especially in minority populations.
Present among the crowd of about 50 people, Cal Pekas Jr. said police arrested and beat members of his family.
“Twenty cruisers and a helicopter showed up to my house, handcuffed, pepper sprayed and beat two women and four children,” Pekas said.
Dylan Pekas, the youngest arrested, suffered a broken hand during the incident.
Pekas likened his wife and children’s arrest to “an Iraq type situation.”
“The police have become a Gestapo squad,” he said.
Willy Hamilton, a member of Omahans for Justice Alliance, said the city needed its police auditor back.
“We need oversight,” Hamilton said.
Mayor Mike Fahey fired former public safety auditor Tristan Bonn in October 2006 after she released a report accusing the Omaha police of racial profiling. Bonn has been active in publicly calling for the restoration of the position.
Hamilton said the protestors were taking a stand.
“They are tired of brutality and misconduct in the police force. This is not over and we are not going away. Something has to be done,” said Hamilton.
Aiming to bring about change, eight Omaha families have joined in a lawsuit against the Omaha Police Department. Pekas said they are asking for Omaha Police Chief Thomas Warren to step down from his job, reinstate a police auditor and make the auditors reports available online.
“We may be poor and indigenous but this cannot and will not happen any more. They have awakened a sleeping giant,” he said.