Yesterday, I spoke in front of the Shawnee County Commission about the suspension of prosecution for those arrested for domestic violence and assault in Topeka. First of all let me say that I understand that times are hard, budgets are being slashed, programs are being cut. This is happening all across the state of Kansas, in fact all over the nation. I can say with a fair amount of certainty, however, that I do not know of another town that has made national news for failing to treat domestic violence as a crime.
Topeka City Councilwomen Sylvia Ortiz was quoted in the Topeka Capitol Journal as stating that the city council needed to “man up” and let commissioners know “we’re not going to stand for this.” Well, with all due respect to Councilwoman Ortiz, I took it upon myself to “woman up” to the Commission in Topeka. After spending the day tracking down information and getting up to speed on the Topeka situation, I knew that my presence was necessary.
It is true that violent abusers are being let out into the streets of Topeka, Kansas with reports of anywhere from 18-30 such releases thus far. The Shawnee County Commission and the Shawnee County DA, Chad Taylor have willfully created this state of anarchy. It can be best described as a political fistfight of epic proportions with women being the ones who are taking the brunt of the punches being swung. The behavior of DA and the Commission continues to threaten the safety of the very community they were elected to serve. The citizens of Topeka can do nothing but watch, waiting to see how this dangerous, perhaps even deadly game of chicken turns out.
Government, even at its most basic level, exists to protect citizens within its geographical boundaries. A fight over a budget has stripped this community of this basic function of protection, from women who need it the most. Evidently, the County Commission went against the very advice of their own financial officer and conducted a straight across the board cut to the Mr. Taylor’s office.
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Budgets of District Attorneys in any municipality are largely comprised of personnel costs. The City of Topeka has had a spike in crime, so having staff is very important to prosecuting cases. DA Taylor expressed in many meetings on many occasions with this council that he could not absorb this kind of cut and that something had to give. Many feel that willfully choosing to not prosecute civil misdemeanors, knowing that assault and domestic violence would be included in that choice, is a flagrant abuse of power. Many feel that DA Taylor picked this approach to get the attention of the community. It has most certainly succeeded in that regard.
After conversations with all of arms of government involved, I’ve had my fill of listening to each of them and their finger pointing and blaming games. I have a set of 5 year old twins at home and it felt a bit like being in one of their scuffles…she did it…no SHE did it…it wasn’t me! Meanwhile the people who are getting caught in the middle of this finger pointing are the victims, who are the only ones who remain truly, blameless.
I could go on for quite awhile fueled by my outrage at this almost unbelievable situation, but I would rather do something constructive here. I would like to make the suggestion that this commission hold an emergency meeting with the council and the DA and at least try to reach a short term solution through the old fashioned art of compromise. The DA could probably be convinced to carry on with prosecution for a couple of months if only provided with some funding until all parties can make alternative plans for the future, if warranted. We know that there is little civility in politics these days, but I’d like to think that local government should strive to set the best example for the rest of them.
Another solution would be for the Shawnee County Commission to admit that they have mishandled the budget. Maybe they could even review this budget and re-direct the $200,000 that is currently earmarked for golf course irrigation? Or maybe they could write a letter to Mayor Bill Bunten, who told me that he might be able to help with this situation if the Commission would ask nicely and not just dump it on the City Council, washing their hands of the situation that was of their creation.
I told the County Commissioners that this should be considered an emergency situation and it should. Saving women whose lives are quite possibly in imminent danger qualifies as imperative in my book. The members of my organization can speak from personal experience. Kansas NOW lost our former lobbyist Jana Mackey to an act of relationship violence. Jana was just 25 years old when her ex-boyfriend murdered her. The year was 2008. Jana was in law school at KU at the time. Jana was becoming a lawyer because above all else, she believed in justice.
I hope that the politicians of Topeka will hear and heed the call for justice that is being sounded within their community and do what is within their power to prevent violent abusers being released into the streets, only abuse again, or even murder young women like Jana. The political fist fight must end and it must end….NOW.
Kansas NOW would like to encourage your participation in democratic resistance to the commission’s lack of funding and the DA’s poor decision making. Please email or call DA Chad Taylor: [email protected] • 785.233.8200 x4330 and the Shawnee County Commission [email protected] • 785.233.8200 x4040. If you’re in Kansas, join Kansas NOW on Tuesday for peaceful street protest and Topeka City Council meeting.