By Jim Hannah

“We have very intense issues of peace and justice in our area,” Garcia said, noting that people of color often live in fear of both immigration and police violence. She challenged the mostly white assembly to recognize that “the way to get leadership from minorities is to commit to the struggles we face on a daily basis.”

Panelists from four human rights organizations made their presentations at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in KC, MO, and responded to questions:

  • Diane Burkholder, co-founder of One Struggle KC, noted that the violence people of color often experience is not necessarily physical, but “the violence of silence, of apathy.” Discrimination based on race is widespread, she said. “Think about why most people in court are black, brown, or low-income people. White people often get warnings, not traffic tickets.” Many traffic fines and arrest warrants, she noted, are little more than a quota system for city income, and minor violations imprison people in the growing prison-industrial complex.
  • Two representatives (names withheld) spoke for Al-Hadaf, a group dedicated to a free Palestine and to revival of the Palestinian–American community in Kansas City. The spokespersons noted that some police training tactics in the US originated in Israel, and that open-air prisons in which the US is detaining immigrants are paralleled by Israel’s restrictions on the seven million refugees in Gaza. Pointing out such parallels, they insisted, is not anti-Semitic: “A government that has oppressive tactics can be opposed” without the truth-teller being anti-Semitic.
  • Diana Martinez spoke for Advocates for Immigration Rights and Reconciliation (AIRR), organized to empower and upliftthe immigrant community. Immigrants, she said, should not have to live in fear of separation or deportation, nor should they have to work in exploitative jobs. In her view, US immigration policies are in effect “kidnapping people and holding them for ransom.” Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), she said, is holding more than $200 million in bonds from immigrants, “much of which will not be repaid.” And many immigrants do not have the means to post cash-only bonds that range from $1,500 to $5,000 or more.  To improve the situation, Martinez said, we need to “move immigration out of the executive branch and into the judicial branch.”
  • John Tramel spoke for SURJ KC (Showing Up for Racial Justice in Kansas City), a local network organizing white people for racial justice. “White people need to listen to minorities,” he said. “Our privilege needs to be questioned. We need to be accountable, and follow the lead of minorities. We need to take risks, to be willing to be uncomfortable. We need to use our privilege in places where we are needed. We need to study and do our homework. We need to form open and accountable relationships with black and white people.  ”

Photos by Mark Semet.

The panel discussion was followed by break-out workshops, including Accessibility and Inclusion in the Arts; Reflections on White Supremacy in Immigration Law; the Israeli Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement; and Principles for Mobilizing White Folks for Racial Justice.

The challenge from the event was perhaps best summarized by a group participant who observed that in recent years he has seen a growing solidarity among groups dedicated to equality and justice for people of color in Kansas City: “It’s imperative for white, and black, and brown people to work together, or we have no chance at all.”

—Jim Hannah serves on the PeaceWorks-KC Board.