OMAHA, Neb. – The ACLU of Nebraska and Justice for James Omaha welcome a new change to the City of Omaha’s plan for Nebraskans who face criminal repercussions for their civil disobedience during racial justice protests. According to City Prosecutor Matt Kuhse, protesters with past system-involvement will now be able to choose between taking a pretrial diversion program or pleading to the charge with the agreement of a recommended $50 fine.
In mid-June, officials announced a plan to dismiss curfew violation charges for hundreds of protesters with no previous criminal record but created a disappointing double standard by continuing aggressive prosecution for system-involved Nebraskans and exploring a diversion program. The ACLU and community members immediately raised concerns that the disparate treatment ran counter to the heart of the protests, which called for racial justice and an end to the significant racial disparities at every stage of our criminal justice system.
Leaders from the ACLU of Nebraska and Justice for James Omaha met with Omaha City Prosecutor Matt Kuhse last week to discuss prosecutorial decisions and on Monday, July 6, he shared that he would extend a follow-up option to protesters: plead to the charge with the understanding that the city would recommend the courts impose a $50 fine.
Community organizer Ja Keen Fox, with Justice for James Omaha, called the move an imperfect step in the right direction.
“While it’s not a complete solution, this announcement acknowledges the disparities the community raised and reinforced that diversion never made sense for people engaged in peaceful free expression but it was welcome news to learn that the diversion program was being grounded in restorative justice,” Fox said. “We believe that a fine isn’t justified either, but we do recognize it offers a better path forward for many protesters. We look forward to continuing these conversations with city leaders on these topics and the urgent need for broader reform.”
ACLU of Nebraska Executive Director Danielle Conrad promised continued advocacy to support Nebraska protesters, noting the ACLU’s Freedom Fund is available to cover the fines.
“We wouldn’t be in this national moment without courageous protesters, many of them young Black and Brown leaders, who said enough is enough,” Conrad said. “Their voices and their actions have elevated the opportunity for long overdue and meaningful change, and we should be thanking them for that. We are grateful the city prosecutor heard our concerns and modified his position to try to limit harm caused by the City’s suspect actions so the community can start healing. The ACLU of Nebraska renews our offer to pay for private attorneys, pick up the cost of court fines and fees, and provide continuing legal support for set asides or pardons to mitigate the lifetime consequences in education and employment that come with even minor infractions through our Freedom Fund. We were also grateful to open a broader discussion about bail reform and prosecutor accountability and we look forward to collaborating with all stakeholders wherever we can to create a fairer system that advances racial justice.”
The ACLU continues to advocate for dismissal of charges or immediate pardons in Lincoln. In contrast to Omaha, Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird says she will evaluate pardon requests six months from now. The ACLU has criticized the strategy, saying it furthers racial injustice.