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‘How can Independence do better?’

Mike Genet

Independence Mayor Eileen Weir said she doesn’t believe the city has done a poor job with community engagement about discussions on race.

But the city can always find ways to improve, she said, and the murder chargers stemming from George Floyd’s fatal arrest in Minneapolis last week, plus the resulting protests nearby and nationwide, amplified the matter.

Weir announced Wednesday she would convene a special meeting Monday of the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, a group of seven volunteers and some supporting city staff that she helped establish last year.

The task force will meet in the Independence Police Headquarters with members of the IPD Community Relations Committee to review policies and procedures.

“The situation demands a response,” Weir said. “Not just George Floyd and the latest incident, but what has occurred even back to the early ’90s. Black men are getting murdered at an unacceptable rate. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished in Independence, and I think we recognize there’s not a huge problem in our city, but we can get better.”

“I think everybody has a reaction to what has taken place the last week, and the response is anger, despair. This is how far we’ve come all these years, and why haven’t we made more progress?”

In her most recent state of the city address early this year, the mayor said she launched the task force “to advise city staff on how to better engage citizens who are under-represented in our public workforce and on our city boards and commissions.”

The discussions are complex and at times uncomfortable, she said, but the task force had been doing good work until the pandemic threw all schedules off-kilter. City offices only started to open back up in earnest this week.

“I’m glad to we’re able to reconvene this group right away when this is still in front of everybody, and discuss ‘How can Independence do better?’” Weir said.

In statements this week, Independence Chief of Police Brad Halsey said he was “alarmed” by the video of Floyd’s death, officers were “shaken” by Floyd’s “senseless death” and the department joins the public in “strongly denouncing the actions and inactions of the involved police officers.” The incident, he says, undermines the work IPD officers do to serve the public and build trust and partnerships in the community, and the actions are not within policy or training of IPD.

“I want to assure citizens that we stand with them, respect their right to voice their opinions on the circumstances and will safeguard citizens’ rights to peaceably assemble,” Halsey said in a statement. “It is our job to protect and serve the citizens of this community.”

Weir said the city’s response comes down to keeping with the “Independence For All” strategic plan that’s been her road map for recent policies and programs.

“‘Independence For All’ means something; it’s not just a slogan, not just a tagline,” Weir said. “We say it with intent, and we say (the city) is culturally diverse.”