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Mayor Sly James, Politicians Offer Young African-American Men Advice On Interacting With Police

Ben Palosaari

Politicians, religious leaders and police hosted a town hall meeting Saturday at St. James United Methodist Church to help young African-American men be prepared for one question: What do I do when I am stopped by the police?

The nation and media continue to be focused on what happens next in Ferguson, Mo. after unarmed teen Michael Brown was shot dead by a police officer two weeks ago. Local authorities wanted to take this chance to help avoid a Ferguson in Kansas City.

Speaking to a packed sanctuary in the massive Paseo Boulevard Chruch,  Kansas City, Mo. Mayor Sly James, Kansas City Police Department deputy chief Robert Kuehl and members of the Missouri Legislature offered tips on how to interact with police if pulled over by law enforcement.  Taking turns at the microphone, officials went over what an individual rights are, and,  in advice that came up repeatedly, how not to engage in a confrontation with police.

James bluntly told community members that KCPD, like any large police department in America will have  occasional problems.

“We have officers out there who really do care. We have officers out there who do the right thing,” he said. “And you’ve got 1,400 people working for you, you’re going to have a percentage of bozos. And those are the ones you have to deal with.”

Democratic State Senator Kiki Curls referred directly to the tragedy in Ferguson.  The senator said in it's up to elected officials to monitor the performance of police departments. She said that she and other politicians are meeting with Missouri Governor Jay Nixon on Sunday to talk about how to, as she says, “make sure that folks in our communities are safe, our police officers are safe, but certainly our constituency remain safe even in light of, I don’t want to say this, the mentality and sometimes the culture of certain police forces and law enforcement around the state.”

Credit Laura Ziegler
In remarks that became heated at times, community members wanted answers about experiences with police and information about their rights.

Panelists advised  young African American men not to impede the officers’ work and to keep the exchange brief.  Officers did let the young people know it was within their rights to ask why they were being pulled over. 

The mayor earned big cheers from the crowd when he railed against the current movement in the Missouri Legislature to make gun laws increasingly lax.  The proliferation of handguns in Missouri’s cities,  Mayor James said,  forces officers to be more leery when confronting residents.

“Another thing that I think is really important in terms of dealing with police on the street is that you recognize that they don’t want to be there either when they walk up to you [and they’re] suspicious,” he said. “We have a culture in this state where guns are everywhere.” 

Emotions escalated during the two hour event as African Americans shared negative, experiences with law enforcement.   Members of the police force stayed around after the formal town hall had ended to take down details of specific cases.

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