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A Fifth Night Of Protest In Kansas City Goes Off More Peacefully After Police Vow To Deescalate

Hundreds of demonstrators Tuesday night raised their fists in a moment of silent protest at the Country Club Plaza. This came on the fifth straight of protest in Kansas City over the killing in Minneapolis of George Floyd.
Frank Morris
KCUR 89.3
Hundreds of demonstrators Tuesday night raised their fists in a moment of silent protest at the Country Club Plaza. This came on the fifth straight of protest in Kansas City over the killing in Minneapolis of George Floyd.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said he has asked the FBI and federal prosecutors to review possible police misconduct during earlier protests.

Demonstrators demanding racial justice and an end to police violence turned out for a fifth straight night of protests at Kansas City's Country Club Plaza on Tuesday.

Though there were moments of tension — and at least a dozen more arrests — the evening's events did not end in the kind of chaos and confrontation witnessed on the previous three nights, when police repeatedly deployed tear gas and chemical spray to disperse crowds.

Before Tuesday’s protest, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas and police officials announced there would be no curfew, as well as other changes in tactics, in an effort to avoid clashes.

“Deescalation is key for us. Deescalation is key in Kansas City. Deescalation is key in our country,” Lucas said.

And it was clear throughout the night that police were attempting to take a softer line. Rather than opening up with tear gas early in the evening, they stood back and let protesters vent for hours, making only sporadic arrests.

At times, some officers personally engaged with protesters, stepping off the line to talk with individuals and small groups of demonstrators.

Protesters themselves imposed discipline. Black pastors leading the marchers frequently encouraged an orderly demonstration.At moments when some in the crowd hurled water bottles at police—as had happened on previous nights—the response from other protesters was swift and sharp, excoriating the bottle throwers for threatening the safety of everyone at the event.

Earlier in the day, KCPD officials said they would deploy fewer officers at Tuesday's protests, which began in Mill Creek Park near 47th Street and J.C. Nichols Parkway, and also use more "flexibility" in dealing with individual protesters.

Activists have complained KCPD's tactics during the weekend were, at times, too aggressive and led to needless injuries and arrests.

Lucas marched with protesters for a time Monday night and said he talked with demonstrators and activists about the tactics police have used. He also has said discussion and media coverage of violence and chaos at the protests takes away from the message the demonstrations are trying to send.

“The important thing, and the reason that everybody's so mad about the George Floyd situation as they should be, is that too often, things don't change," he said. "Every day during this protest, something has changed about how the police respond, about how I'm responding. We have to look in the mirror and say ‘is what we did right, or can we improve it?’”

One video from the weekend had been viewed millions of times online by Tuesday and shows KCPD officers arresting a man after he stepped out into the street along J.C. Nichols Parkway and then spraying chemical on other protesters.

In a series of tweets later Tuesday, Lucas said he had reviewed videos of incidents during the weekend protests and had asked the FBI and federal prosecutors to review "any and all incidents of potentially violative procedures or misconduct."

Police Chief Rick Smith on Tuesday again defended his department, saying officers at the protests used "non-lethal force" to arrest protesters and had to deal with things being thrown at them, including bottles and rocks.

"We ain't perfect, but I'm telling you, our hearts are in the right place. We want the same thing as everybody else. We want their voices heard and we want peace," he said.

Smith encouraged any protester who felt they had been unjustly injured or had been the victim of excessive force to file a grievance with the Office of Community Complaints.

He also said he wanted to work with demonstrators and community members to work for peace and address their issues.

"We want calm. We want peace. The police department doesn't want to have to come out here and take these tactics every night," he said.

Lucas also said he would seek federal funding for officer body cameras and would convene an "emergency meeting" this Thursday of the Board of Police Commissioners to discuss KCPD's response to the protests.

The mayor is one of five members of the board, but Kansas City remains the only major city in the U.S. where the mayor does not have direct control over the police department. KCPD has been under state control since the 1930s.

Still, activists remain adamant in their demands.

The Rev. Vernon Howard of the Kansas City chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference said the nationwide protests, sparked by the death last month in Minneapolis of George Floyd, are a "tipping point."

Howard noted that his group's demands for reforms after the shooting death in 2013 of Ryan Stokes at the hands of a KCPD officer went largely unheeded.

"We're not looking to be made feel better. We're not looking to be comforted or consoled," Howard said. "We are not looking even in the uttermost for some level of cosmetic show of unity. What we are looking for is justice and change.”

Howard said his group wants to see all KCPD officers outfitted with body cameras, reforms in how the department takes complaints and more African Americans in police administration.

He said a "new generation" of protesters is forcing city and police officials to reckon with such demands.

“The protests are good. They are warranted, they are authorized, they are moral, they are right and we hear them. We must feel them and then we must respond accordingly," he said.

A young girl watches as hundreds march near the Plaza on Tuesday night.
Frank Morris
KCUR 89.3
A young girl watches as hundreds march near the Plaza on Tuesday night.

Kyle Palmer is the editor of the Shawnee Mission Post, a digital news outlet serving Northeast Johnson County, Kansas. He previously served as KCUR's news director and morning newscaster.
I’ve been at KCUR almost 30 years, working partly for NPR and splitting my time between local and national reporting. I work to bring extra attention to people in the Midwest, my home state of Kansas and of course Kansas City. What I love about this job is having a license to talk to interesting people and then crafting radio stories around their voices. It’s a big responsibility to uphold the truth of those stories while condensing them for lots of other people listening to the radio, and I take it seriously. Email me at frank@kcur.org or find me on Twitter @FrankNewsman.
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