By: Leah Uko
OMAHA (KPTM) - When the Omaha Police Officers Association was criticized for reposting a video that showed a two-year-old cursing and shouting sexual and gang-related slurs, its president defended the reasoning behind the post.
"Ultimately, I believe because we posted that, these children were removed from the house and quite frankly if we can save one child's life it was worth it," said OPOA president John Wells.
Wells was referring to the fact that the toddler and three other minors were taken into child protective custody after the video, titled "The Thug Cycle" OPOA posted went viral.
He said a Facebook follower sent the union the video, which was originally posted to a known "thug's" website. Wells said the union decided to repost it to show the public what the website stated "a cycle of violence and thuggery, young innocent children find themselves trapped in."
Those words hit nerves of many people who disagreed with the wording and content of the post. Wells defended the use of the word "thug".
"I--in my role, as the head of the association and as a police officer, have been called a thug. Does that make me Black? I don't know that--I've never heard that as an exclusive term."
The criticism made national headlines with the American Civil Liberties Union, minority groups, Omaha Police Department Chief Todd Schmaderer and networks CNN, FOX News and BET.
OPOA also caught flack for not protecting the toddler's identity. In the video, his face was not blurred, but the person's name who originally posted the video was. Wells said OPOA did not blur the child's face because in the original video, it was not blurred either. But why was the adult's identity protected?
"That's a good question," Wells responded. "Probably because to not get into a inflammatory discussion and defame him necessarily because we did talk about criminal violent behavior and so people don't go and start badgering him potentially over recording the video."
Once the video gained national attention, the Omaha Police Department Child Victim Unit began investigating the family involved in the video. The City of Omaha Prosecutor's Office found no criminal activities had taken place.
But Wednesday, the Child Victim Unit and Child Protective Services determined the toddler's safety, along with his 17-year-old mother and two other minors' safety was in danger and removed them from the home.
Court documents showed that the family has a history of gang-relation and gun violence.
The toddler's father, D'Marco Pope, was killed last spring. Police said his killing was gang-related.
The uncle, is at the Douglas County Youth Center for gun charges.
The grandfather, Ennis Devers Sr. was convicted of a weapons charge.
The grandmother is known to allow gang members into her home with access to her children living there.
Since June 14, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services had been monitoring the family after a person reported that the children were left without proper adult supervision. At the time, the children were living with Kim Devers, 38, who is the grandmother of the toddler.
In this home, the family was targeted in a drive-by shooting. When this happened, DHHS and the Nebraska Families Collaborative recommended that the family move to a new home.
In August, Nebraska Families Collaborative paid $600 on a rental deposit in order to secure safe and independent housing for the family.
On October 2, the violence followed. Police said someone shot at the house near 42nd and Browne streets where the family was living. The toddler, his mother and two aunts were all injured.
The boy was grazed on his foot by a piece of shrapnel, his mother was shot in the shoulder and his aunt Keirra Johnson was shot in her lower abdomen.
Johnson asked Nebraska Families Collaborative for help with moving to a new home. In November, it helped move the family to new housing located near 27th and Saratoga streets.
Still, the violence continued. On December 17, a shooting near 42nd and Ames street lead police to the suspect's vehicle at Devers' home where investigators found five guns inside. Devers is currently in jail facing a charge for illegally possessing a firearm.
To avoid an eviction, Nebraska Families Collaborative gave Johnson, who is Devers daughter, $600.
Due to the Devers children being left without a primary caregiver for almost a week, DHHS determined that the childrens' safety was at risk.
In the court documents, it stated that Devers "continued to allow known gang members into their home and full access to the children living in the home". DHHS and NFC stated Devers did not have the ability to take care of her children.
It added that despite moving the family from home to home, "gang activity remains a part of this family's lifestyle".
Kathie Osterman with HHS said she could not comment on any specific case. She stated that caseworkers can make recommendations for children to be removed from homes and that "we work closely with law enforcement when we investigate cases and if we feel that action should be taken into a specific case, we would make that recommendation to the county attorney."
Douglas County Attorney Don Klein never returned calls or messages.
Councilman and professor speaks out
Omaha City Councilman Franklin Thompson said the deeper issue with the viral video, Omaha Police Officers Association and the Devers family has many layers--race and improper training, he said, presenting the most flaws.
In regards to race, Thompson, who teaches Race and Human Relations at the University of Nebraska Omaha, said the video simply broadcasted the self-hate that exists in the Black community.
"The whole idea that super masculinity is the way that Black males are supposed to act is something that's not natural," Thompson continued. "Not only was it [the video] inappropriate, it was unnatural."
"That's really the real story behind this right here," Thompson continued. "Some people will say that only the 2-year-old child is the victim and I'd say all the children in that video, including the 16 and 19-year-old, are victims. Somewhere along the line, someone taught them also to hate themselves and to take that lifestyle as a preferred lifestyle."
Thompson said until people "deprogram and reprogram what was done to African Americans" the problem with racism and racial bias would not go away. He suggested the solution to the problem is for people not to shy away from the poverty culture that undeniably exists.
"We want to talk about things such as housing, education, but when it comes to the psychology behind the culture of poverty, both parties, both races are afraid of touching it. It's a hot potato."
In regards to poor training, Thompson explained that he felt police officers were not trained on how to properly react to kinds of people they are not often exposed to.
"If the police are guilty, they're not the only ones that are guilty. We don't do a good job at preparing them for what they see."