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Policing Tactics Questioned In Kansas City Ahead Of Fourth Night Of Protests

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas spoke to protesters at Mill Creek Park on Monday night.
Chris Haxel
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas spoke to protesters at Mill Creek Park on Monday night.

More than 100 were arrested during the weekend of protests in Kansas City, Missouri. Activists say police used chemicals on innocent people, with police arguing that it's hard to “go in and remove one person.”

Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith defended on Monday his department’s use of tear gas and how it handled weekend protests spurred by racism, police violence and the death of George Floyd.

But protesters organized for a fourth day of demonstrations, with Mayor Quinton Lucas marching with one group.

“We’re changing the world in Kansas City,” Lucas told about 300 people gathered near the Plaza. "If you believe in justice, stand with us. If you believe in equality, stand for us. If you believe truly that Black Lives Matter, stand with us.

"We are peaceful. We are calm. But we are pissed off," he said to cheers. “And there’s nothing wrong with being pissed off. How do we fix it? We make sure people hear you."

He told them to continue to protest so the “governor hears you, so the senators hear you, so the damn President of the United States hears you."

Shortly after, Lucas appeared to have left the demonstration and police used tear gas on the crowd and, by 10 p.m., shot projectiles at the crowd. The protesters eventually met up at the intersection of Oak Street and Emanuel Cleaver II Boulevard, then scattered around the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

Between Friday and Sunday, police made 151 arrests. Police and protesters tended to clash in the evenings, after the main protests were over. Police used tear gas, and were hit with bottles and rocks on Saturday and Sunday, with 20 officers injured and two hospitalized, Smith said.

Kansas City protest organizer Keji Akinmoladun told KCUR’s Up To Date on Monday police used tear gas after people in the back of crowds threw water bottles despite being asked not to. That, she said, resulted in “innocent people in the front … getting sprayed for nothing at all.”

Smith said officers on Sunday were “begging the crowd not to get engaged in that activity.”

“But at a certain point everyone that is there is in the group mentality, and that is the issue we are faced with,” he said. “We can’t just surgically go in and remove one person.”

People scatter amid a cloud of tear gas during demonstrations Saturday night at Kansas City's Country Club Plaza.
Carlos Moreno
People scatter amid a cloud of tear gas during demonstrations Saturday night at Kansas City's Country Club Plaza.

A viral video shows officers pepper-spraying a black protester in the face over the weekend and taking him into custody after he told officers to turn in their badge if they “didn’t have the balls to protect the streets and protect and serve like you were paid to do.”

Smith said he hadn’t seen the video, though Quinton Lucas said he reviewed it but doesn’t have any additional information. Lucas said he believes in accountability, adding that the “Board of Police Commissioners will be part of making sure that we review any situations after this event.”

While they might echo those from years past, the past week’s protests were spurred by Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, when a police officer knelt on his neck for minutes. The demonstrations are also calling attention to Breonna Taylor, an EMS worker who was fatally shot in her apartment by officers in Louisville, Kentucky, and other recent deaths of Black Americans.

Thirteen police cars were also damaged over the weekend, with a total price tag of roughly $85,000, Smith said. Police weren’t the only ones, with a TV station car being set on fire Sunday night.

The vast majority of the arrests were for municipal charges, with one person arrested for a felony related to narcotics. Twelve who were arrested were from out of town (defined as more than an hour away). And Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker has charged four Kansas City residents for stealing clothes from Plaza stores Saturday night.

Lucas said he’s frustrated with news coverage that focuses on property damage instead of the concerns of protesters.

“The cover of every newscast that I've seen related to boarded-up buildings, it related to conflict, and I don't think that's what everybody did,” Lucas said.

And Smith said he’s not been in the thick of the protests.

“I don't know what they've had to say. For the most part, I've been standing up there so I have not been engaged with them,” Smith said.

Aviva Okeson-Haberman was the Missouri government and politics reporter at KCUR 89.3.
As a reporter covering military and veterans’ affairs, I tell the stories of current and former service members and their families. I hold the government, elected officials and others responsible when they break their promises. And I explore how Americans can best uphold our commitments to those who serve.
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