A recently filed lawsuit accuses the Omaha, Neb. police force of using excessive force during the prolonged protests against police brutality and systemic racism this summer.
ABC News reports that the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska filed a federal lawsuit questioning the tactics Omaha police used in response to the protests in May, June, and July. The lawsuit draws attention to the frequent use of pepper balls as well as the mass arrests of protesters.
“The answer to protests against police brutality shouldn’t be more brutality,” Danielle Conrad, executive director of the ACLU of Nebraska, said. “Omaha Police have put Black Omahans and all Omahans calling for justice in the unacceptable position of deciding between their constitutional rights and their own health and safety.”
Paul Kratz, Omaha city attorney, feels that the actions taken by Omaha police were justified. “Omaha has always been supportive of free speech and public demonstrations and will continue to do so,” Kratz said. “The police make every effort to cooperate and protect demonstrators as long as they obey the law and police commands.”
Kratz is among city officials defending the mass arrests, feeling that protests would have potentially turned violent and in some cases did. On May 30, 22-year-old James Scurlock, a Black man, was shot and killed during a confrontation with a white bar owner in Omaha during a protest. The ACLU argues that the violent incidents are outliers and the majority of protests were held peacefully.
In late July, 120 people were arrested during a peaceful protest against police violence. The lawsuit references that protest as it was entirely peaceful until Omaha police began to arrest protesters and fire pepper balls to disperse the crowds. Those who were arrested were placed in a jail that was dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak and the lawsuit alleges some of those jailed heard officers say the arrests were a way to discourage further protests.
Omaha police have frequently used pepper balls to disperse crowds during protests. According to the Omaha World-Herald, they used pepper ball guns 157 during the first half of 2020, more than the last seven years combined. “It’s not appropriate to meet peaceful protesters with a militarized response,” Conrad said.
The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of eight protesters, bystanders and a journalist in attendance at the July protest. The organization wants the ordinances that allow Omaha police to arrest protesters to be thrown out as they believe they’re too broad and infringe on free speech.