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Members Of Kansas City's Black Communities Reflect On A Week of Protests And Are Skeptical About Lasting Change

Laura Ziegler
Brando Williams has not been at the rallies and criticizes protesters for violence and property damage, but says police in Kanasas City are guilty of racial profiling.

Brando Floyd had just bought a new T-shirt at Sun Fresh on Swope Parkway and was changing so he could head over to a barbecue. He says he's just "doing his life." He doesn't do Facebook or other social media, or pay attention to the news.

He hasn't been at any of this week's protests over the killing of George Floyd in Kansas City, but he's heard about the property damage and the violence.

"They shouldn't be doing that," he says. "I think they're taking it too far, personally. That's overboard."

But racial profiling? It's absolutely real.

"You get pulled over because you're black," he says. "And they need to go through your car and all that. We don't gotta go through all that for nothing."

Members of Kansas City's black communities are expressing skepticism as protests in Kansas City and across the country over Floyd's death have become more peaceful after a tumultuous 10 days.

States and cities have committed to reformation of police practices. There was relief when charges were filed against officers in the Floyd case. Many in police forces, including Chief Rick Smith in Kansas City, raised a fist or took a knee in solidarity with protesters.

In Kansas City this week, Mayor Quinton Lucas lifted a curfew and emphasized he would prioritize de-escalation over confrontation.

Lucas also announced Kansas City had received $2.5 million for body cameras and that he'd work with federal investigators to review alleged incidents of police brutality during the protests.

But civil rights groups say that's not enough. They're calling for local control of the Kansas City Police department, which is overseen by the state. They're also calling for Smith's resignation.

Laura Ziegler
E.T says the relationship between the black community and police is strained because cops tend to stereotype, especially with black men, and assume cases are the same. They're not all the same, but things won't change, he says, until top officers commit to train new recruits.

More skepticism

Waiting for a bus at 75th Street and Troost Avenue, 58-year-old E.T. says he was at the protests this week. He says neither he nor the several men in his gang, all black, participated in any of the destructive behavior. They didn't spray any graffiti, throw anything at cops or break any glass.

He may not agree with these tactics, but he says things need to change.

"I'm from Louisiana, I know about racism," he says. "You got good officers and bad officers, but they need to send a sergeant out in the field with (new recruits) to make sure they're trained so they know how to handle each individual case. They're not learning how to respect us."

Sitting with E.T. is his friend, Kingston Smith. Smith says even though he didn't cause any problems, he identifies with those who did.

"No, (they) were not wrong," he says in an angry and animated tone. "(The police) are the ones who put a knee in the black man’s neck. If we start going out and tearing up s**t, then we're wrong. We're f***ing frustrated because that's not right. They should just put him in handcuffs and take him to jail."

Laura Ziegler
Kellye McCrary and Charity Brown-Ritchie, walking near Swope Park, talk all the time about how their children will interact with police. They are angry about the killing of black men and want change. But they also say parents, churches and their own communities need to take more responsibility for teaching children how to respect everyone.

Kellye McCrary and Charity Brown-Ritchie were walking on Wednesday near Swope Park. McCrary, 50, works with a community non-profit and says they were just talking about the protests.

"My heart is heavy," says McCrary. "I get emotional about it. We need to figure out some kind of law, to hold people accountable instead of fight."

Both women agree the issues highlighted by recent protests are complex. There are no easy solutions. Better laws, better training and more informal interactions between communites and cops would be a start. It would help to see police sometimes not in their uniforms, patrolling in their vehicles, arresting people.

"Yeah..and get comfortable with people of color," says Brown-Ritchie. "Engage. How do I talk to a little dude who looks angry? I ain't gotta draw my gun. Just say 'Bro, what’s wrong with you, you look angry. Come talk to me.'"

But she says it is not all on the police. Their community also needs to take more responsibility.

"I’m not saying what the cops did was right. It was absolutely messed up!" she says. "But how we react to it is why it continues to be messed up. We need to learn how to home in on our own feelings and emotions and deal with them properly. I know my people will say 'you’re a black women with an 1-year-old son, (you shouldn't say that.)'"

She wants to see more cops living around the people they serve. Showing up at health fairs, neighborhood events or on even on the neighborhood basketball court.

She's not hopeful the protests will bring any significant change within the police force.

"Because their mind is so focused on how to put the top on the pot," she says. "It’s boiling, it’s boiling. Let's turn down the heat and put the top on the pot. They’re not concerned about change."

Laura Ziegler
Louise Strickland, 28, was at a protest in Kansas City, Kansas. She says she's grown up seeing her father, her husband and other black men profiled by police. She feels the exposure of recent killings has emboldened her community to stand up to injustice.

More boldness, more hope

While the largest and loudest protests have happened in midtown Kansas City, Missouri, Louise Strickland, 28, came out for a more peaceful protest last weekend in front of the municipal buildings in Kansas City, Kansas.

As a life-long resident of Wyandotte County, she feels hope in this moment. She sees more allies who don’t look like her. People are more confident than ever about confronting cops.

"Some of the issues that, for a long time, we didn’t speak about directly to law enforcement, now were more empowered," she says. "We're not scared of any of the repercussions."

I partner with communities to uncover the ignored or misrepresented stories by listening and letting communities help identify and shape a narrative. My work brings new voices, sounds, and an authentic sense of place to our coverage of the Kansas City region. My goal is to tell stories on the radio, online, on social media and through face to face conversations that enhance civic dialogue and provide solutions.
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