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Wyandotte County's History Of Police Abuses May Complicate Officials' Efforts For 'Positive Change'

Unified Government of Wyandotte County website
A task force to address issues raised by protesters demonstrating against racism and police brutality grew out of talks among a group of Kansas City, Kansas, clergy.

A task force aims to improve relations between Kansas City, Kansas, residents and the police department, which has been wracked by allegations of racism and corruption.

Officials with the Unified Government of Wyandotte County have announced the creation of a task force aimed at leading an ongoing discussion between the community and law enforcement.

The announcement follows more than a week of protests in the metro, sparked by the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis and the killing of other Black men and women across the country, including Ahmaud Arbery, who was chased down, shot and killed by two white men earlier this year in Georgia.

UG Mayor and CEO David Alvey said the task force will provide a space for residents to advocate for changes.

“This has been something that I've been working through and thinking through, but honestly the death of Mr. Arbery and Mr. Floyd certainly makes it much more urgent. We just simply can't wait,” said Alvey, in an online news conference Monday.

He said the task force was put together after a conversation with a group of Wyandotte County clergy that has been meeting weekly to discuss problems regarding the coronavirus pandemic. But instead, at a recent meeting, members brought up the issue of race relations amid ongoing national protests over police brutality and racism.

UG Commissioner Harold Johnson, who will co-chair the new task force, said it couldn't have come soon enough.

“I am more than frustrated, because as far as I’m concerned. I could have been George Floyd. Just because George Floyd is not a resident of Kansas City, Kansas, and Wyandotte County does not give us a pass of examining the practices and cultures of our law enforcement agencies,” said Johnson.

Interim KCK Police Chief Michael York has also been named a member of the task force. On Monday, he said the Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department has been trying to improve relations with residents, including employing 20 community officers.

Still, he said there is room for improvement.

“I'm ready for some positive change and open dialogue with the community. I want to hear what they have to say and how I can do it better and how my officers can do it better,” said York.

KCKPD has faced numerous complaints and controversies in recent years, facing accusations of racism and sexual misconduct.

A police officer sued the Unified Government for race and gender discrimination last December. Z'Iontae Womack, one of the department’s four African-American women officers, alleged there was a pattern of disciplining African-American officers but not white officers for the same or more serious infractions.

In 2018, Officer Steven Rios was charged with one count of sexual battery for touching a woman without her consent while on duty.

And in the fall of 2018, Lamonte McIntyre sued KCKPD after serving 23 years in prison for a double murder he didn't commit. McIntyre’s suit alleged that now-retired KCK detective Roger Golubski coerced and sexually exploited witnesses, many of them vulnerable black women, into giving fabricated testimony and to railroad McIntyre.

Wyandotte County Sheriff Don Ash is also on the task force and admitted his department was also in need of improvement.

“We want to hear from you. We want to listen to you. We want to work with you so that we can be better, however good we are,” said Ash.

Ash said he was proud of how residents have acted during recent protests in KCK, by remaining peaceful.

Yareli Castor, a student at Donnelly College, and a KCK resident, was also included on the task force. She said being on the task force is an opportunity for minority voices and the younger generation to have a platform for change.

“Students have ideas. Students want to be a part of this. They have a big voice in all of this, and they're getting tired of not being heard,” said Castor.

The task force will also include Rev. Tony Carter, Jr. of Salem Missionary Baptist Church; Randy Lopez of the Wyandotte Health Foundation and Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools; and President Monsignor Stuart Swetland of Donnelly College.

Alvey said the task force will be working with and taking suggestions from Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark Dupree. But Dupree's office told KCUR he wasn’t invited to join as a member.

“The DA was not invited to be a part of the task force. That’s a question for the mayor’s office,” said DA spokesman Jonathan Carter.

Alvey said the task force plans to announce a series of public forums, listening sessions, and online surveys for members of the community to participate in within the next week.

More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
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