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South Sudanese community leaders connect with Omaha police to prevent gun violence

<i>KETV</i><br/>The president of the South Sudanese New Community hits the panic button on violence within his people. He's reached out to a group he knew could help him target gun violence within the community's youth. Dak Thon walked to the front of the room Wednesday
KETV
The president of the South Sudanese New Community hits the panic button on violence within his people. He's reached out to a group he knew could help him target gun violence within the community's youth. Dak Thon walked to the front of the room Wednesday

By Sarah Fili

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    OMAHA, Nebraska (KETV) — The president of the South Sudanese New Community hits the panic button on violence within his people.

He’s reached out to a group he knew could help him target gun violence within the community’s youth.

Dak Thon walked to the front of the room Wednesday, newly elected to his role as president of the South Sudanese New Community in Omaha. He’s also newer to the Omaha 360 meeting. “I want to connect with the leaders here, community leaders, the police, police department and gang leaders and things like that, gang unit development. So I’ll be able to talk to you directly,” said Dak Thon.

Thon said cultural differences lead to issues with reporting to Omaha police. It’s something he’s experienced himself.

“A lot of young people used to come to me and said that there’s going to be some death that’s going to happen, and we try to let our leaders know better who is next,” Thon said.

He said young people in his community let him know about the potential for a violent situation in April 2020, but when he told his elders, nothing more was done. That led to a fatal shooting at Benson Park. Waw Gach was with friends on April 7, 2020, when police said he saw a crash and a fight between the owners of two vehicles.

Police said one person in the crash began shooting at occupants of the other car and Gach was shot while trying to stop the shooter.

Thon said they were all South Sudanese. The crime is still unsolved. He says some of that is mistrust and misunderstanding of police.

“I’m trying to connect the two so we could see how the how I can help bridge that gap. So we’re able to help with the gun prevention and violence that are going on within Nebraska,” Thon said.

“There’s no trust from the community with the police, but we’re showing them that the police are not the bad guys or anything like that or whatever you’re taught in the streets. We’re telling them that just be transparent and that helps actually to help you,” Thon said.

Capt. Keith Williamson with the Omaha police gang unit said refugee groups are unique as they’re new to the country and trying to learn a new life.

“When you get a group, a different culture that comes in, there’s a need to assimilate. But then there’s also a need to protect,” Williamson said.

“There’s an automatic distrust of the police within the community that’s new, you know, to this country or to this area,” Williamson said.

“Maybe it’s a communication barrier or maybe there’s a language barrier, so they don’t even know how to communicate or to talk, to report a crime of them being victimized or something,” he said.

That sometimes leads to gang activity, something they’re working hard to quell.

“A lot of people don’t realize that in Omaha, Omaha has the largest South Sudanese population, I believe, outside of the South Sudan,” Williamson said.

He welcomes the new connection and said conversations are already in the works on how to better connect.

Thon said he’s excited to educate his community about American police and work together with them to stop the violence.

“It is personal and I want to make sure some of the other youth that are still alive are saved,” he said.

Thon said he was also involved in a troubled lifestyle when he was younger — so he feels he can relate to the kids in his community and get them away from guns. Omaha police said they’ll also involve the department’s South Sudanese gang specialist. He works specifically with refugees.

Both agree the most important thing will be to build trust and work together.

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