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Civil Rights Groups, Protesters March On Kansas City In Demand Of Police Reform

Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Led by the Broadway Drillteam, protestors fill up Grand Blvd while marching south toward the World War I Museum and Memorial on Friday.

Hundreds of protesters rallied in Kansas City on Friday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s March on Washington nearly 60 years ago.

The march, spearheaded by local chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union, Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Urban League, began at City Hall and finished at the Liberty Memorial.

Reverend Vernon Howard, president of the SCLC of Greater Kansas City, says the groups are calling for racial justice and peace across the metro.

“We are concerned that after weeks and weeks of protests, no substantial policy shift has taken place with regards to law enforcement here in Kansas City. And that's unacceptable,” said Howard.

The coalition of civil rights groups has a list of demands to address alleged brutality and racism within the Kansas City Police Department.

Howard recommends the department adopt the “Eight Can’t Wait” agenda that includes reforms like banning chokeholds, changing reporting systems for use of force and requiring officers to intervene when they witness misconduct.

“It is insidious that this law enforcement agency would not embrace those very basic and reasonable kinds of reforms that have been embraced all across this country,” said Howard.

Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Protestors turn the corner from 12th Street onto Grand Blvd. on Friday afternoon shortly after launching their March on Kansas City toward the World War I Museum and Memorial.

One of the top demands of the protestors is the firing of Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith, who’s come under fire following numerous instances of police brutality against Black individuals.

Most recently, Sgt. Matthew Neal was charged with felony third-degree assault against a Black 15-year-old who pleaded “I can’t breathe” as the officer pushed the teen’s head into the pavement in an incident last November.

Gwendolyn Grant, president of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, says Smith presides over a corrupt, cover-up culture at the police department that perpetuates systemic racism.

“Smith’s department kills unarmed black men, and when they do, they spend months investigating the victims and their families rather than the circumstances surrounding the homicides they have committed,” Grant says.

Mayor Quinton Lucas has proposed police reforms included in the demands of the “Eight Can’t Wait” agenda. But he has refused to support calls for Smith’s firing or defunding the police department.

“I’m not someone who supports a 50% or 25% cut to the police just to say you did it,” Lucas said earlier this week. “I think you’ve seen in a lot of other cities, they’ve talked about those and then ultimately don’t make those changes.”

And while the City Council must cut the city budget by $50 million this year, the police department only has to cut half as much as other departments and can maintain its current number of officers.

Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Gwendolyn Grant, president of the Urban League, leads the protestors in a chant of "provoke the vote" after the group settled into the grounds beneath the World War I Museum and Memorial on Friday following their protest march from downtown.

“Mayor Lucas and his fellow police commissioners have shown nothing but indifference to our experiences,” Grant said. “Indifference and inaction are more dangerous than anger and hatred. Indifference renders black lives invisible and is always the friend of the enemy.”

Mahreen Ansari is student body vice president at the University of Missouri - Kansas City and attended the protest. She says firing Smith is just the beginning of addressing the issue of racism in Kansas City.

“I think that the minimum should be firing the chief of police, but there needs to be way more done than that, and I don't know if reforms are enough,” said Ansari.

She says a larger conversation needs to happen across the metro about racism. While nationwide protests from earlier this summer following the death of George Floyd have lost momentum, she says this Friday’s march is proof that protesters’ work is far from over.

“I remember seeing everyone posting on social media, but as soon as the height of the protest died down, there was less media coverage,” said Ansari. “This event is a reminder that this is still an ongoing struggle. This is something that people are still fighting for.”

The League of Women Voters Kansas City spent the event registering protestors for the upcoming election. The coalition says voting is the best chance at turning their demands into reality.

“This election in November is a war for the soul of America, Grant said. “We cannot allow our efforts to be in vain.”

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.
Lucas Cuni-Mertz is a news intern at KCUR 89.3.
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