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Woman in 'powerful photo' of Omaha protest seeks to be voice for 'all the innocent lives' lost

Woman in 'powerful photo' of Omaha protest seeks to be voice for 'all the innocent lives' lost

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Kyra Parker flashes the peace sign while walking backwards in a cloud of tear gas during a protest at 72nd and Dodge Streets on Friday. People were protesting the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.

The photo is stirring.

In the foreground are law enforcement officers dressed in riot gear and holding batons. In the background, a protester holds a sign: “Black Lives Matter.”

In the middle stands 22-year-old Kyra Parker, her right hand in a fist and her left hand in a peace sign.

White foggy haze from tear gas thrown by officers surrounds Parker, whose jacket is wrapped around her mouth.

The photo was captured by World-Herald photographer Chris Machian at Friday’s protest at 72nd and Dodge Streets.

“It’s a powerful photo, this speaks a lot of what the protest was meant to be. It was meant to be a peaceful protest. It was a peaceful protest,” Parker said Saturday. “That’s what I was standing for, to peacefully protest something that’s not going right in our world right now.”

She attended Friday and Saturday’s protests to be a voice for “all the innocent lives that have been lost in police brutality.”

And she intends to start to create positive change in her new career in the criminal justice system — as a correctional officer at Tecumseh State Prison. Her six-week training begins Monday.

“I’m going into that field because I want to show people that they shouldn’t be treated like dirt no matter what their situation,” she said. “Everybody makes mistakes, but that doesn’t mean you’re a mistake. And you should be treated with love and respect.”

So it was hard for Parker to grapple with the fact that a fellow worker in the criminal justice field — a law enforcement officer — hit her with a baton in the chest at least twice and pushed her down while she was sitting on the sidewalk Friday night. Omaha police commanded the response, with help from the Nebraska State Patrol, the Douglas and Sarpy County Sheriff’s Offices and the La Vista Police Department.

Parker maintains that officers escalated the situation Friday night and increased the tension by using tear gas and pepper balls. She acknowledged that a few people acted out but said the thousands who were there to peacefully protest didn’t instigate or deserve the force returned by police.

“It was peaceful until the police showed up. I can’t stress that enough,” the native Omahan said. “I didn’t want to retaliate in a way that is like theirs. It’s not me. I was raised and I still practice turning the other cheek. Make a positive out of the negative.”

Parker arrived at the protest about 8:30 p.m., when the streets were already blocked off by Omaha police. She was on the sidewalk chanting when others went into the street. Protesters stood in a line in front of police, who then started walking toward them, pushing their batons out.

That’s when she says police escalated the situation by pushing protesters down and hitting them with batons.

“As a whole, we weren’t doing anything to deserve that,” she said.

At some point, Parker said, she was shot in the leg with rubber bullets, but Police Chief Todd Schmaderer said Saturday that officers used only pepper balls, which are meant to strike the ground and release mace.

Later, when it was dark, she said, her friends were sitting on the sidewalk near the grassy berm and the Crossroads Mall sign when an officer began hitting them with batons and pushing them up. Parker tried to move quickly and get out of the way, but she wasn’t fast enough and the grass was slick, so she fell. She told the officer that she was trying to comply with his directions to move back.

Parker and her friends left soon after the altercation with the officer.

“I was so emotional, and still am emotional,” she said.

But she returned Saturday, prepared to continue spreading “compassion, empathy, love and understanding.” And with signs:

“Peaceful Protest is our Right” and “Black Lives Matter” — with a drawing of a fist.Photos: Protest of George Floyd’s killing draws thousands in Omaha

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Alia Conley covers breaking news, crime, crime trends, the Omaha Police Department and initial court hearings. Follow her on Twitter @aliaconleyOWH. Phone: 402-444-1068.

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