© 2022 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Civil Rights Activists Pressure Kansas City Police Commissioners During Meeting To Fire Chief Smith

Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Rev. Scott Myers protests alone outside Kansas City Police Headquarters on Tuesday repeating the same message others took inside the Police Board of Commissioners meeting where capacity was limited to 25 people.

The board abruptly went into closed session after some clergy members called for a vote on Smith’s termination. Civil rights groups have been calling for Smith’s termination since his handling of protests against police brutality in June.

Civil rights activists say they will continue to disrupt meetings of the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners until police Chief Rick Smith is fired, demoted or resigns.

The commissioners abruptly adjourned after a string of religious leaders and activists called for a vote on Smith’s termination.

The public testimony included Black clergy, community activists and representatives from Kansas City’s Jewish community.

After the last speaker, Rev. Dr. Vernon Howard, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City, stood up and demanded a vote.

“In the name of Jesus Christ, we are calling for a vote on the dismissal of Chief Smith … In the name of Jesus Christ, justice in this place,” Howard yelled, prompting commissioners to adjourn the meeting.

Screenshot/Kansas City, Missouri, livestream
Rev. Dr. Vernon Howard testified before the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners, calling for the dismissal of police chief Rick Smith.

The audio on the official livestream of the meeting was cut off shortly afterward, but Howard other protesters continued to speak. The commission left the community room for a closed door meeting a few minutes later. The meeting was re-opened to the public via Facebook livestream just after noon.

Civil right groups have been calling for Smith’s termination since his handling of protests against police brutality in June.

In an interview with KCUR Tuesday afternoon, Howard noted that just before public testimony began, Smith was praising the efforts of Operation LeGend, a national crime fighting initiative named after a Kansas City boy killed this summer.

Police credit the operation with over 500 arrests, including 37 homicide suspects.

“The chief gives a report on Operation LeGend and reports the numbers of African-American men who have been swooped up and incarcerated since Operation LeGend’s beginning — and touts that as a success,” Howard said.

“The problem of lawlessness is not just within citizens who kill each other, the problem of lawlessness starts with the KCPD, whose responsibility is to conduct itself in a lawful manner,” Howard said.

He said Smith has failed to hold his own police officers accountable for excessive force against Black Kansas Citians.

“You cannot have lawlessness within law enforcement. People will not trust law enforcement — they will take matters into their own hands. A change has to be made,” Howard said.

After the board reconvened, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, who is a commissioner, said some of the personal insults shouted by one protester were “totally uncalled for.”

An organizer who identified themselves as KJ X called the board “soulless white folks and self-preserving Black folks” and accused police of using Black children as “photo opportunities.”

“Rather than some of the invective that I think we saw today, perhaps we can get to a productive place if everyone is willing to come, talk and listen as well,” Lucas said.

Rick Smith
Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith speaks at a September press conference updating Operation LeGend. Civil rights groups have been calling for his resignation since June.

But some activists say they have been willing to listen and take meetings with city officials, only to see little to no action.

Attorney Stacy Shaw told KCUR she’s met with Lucas at least once and is willing to continue those conversations.

“The issue is not that organizers are not willing to sit down, because that’s absolutely incorrect. Organizers have sat down with him personally and given him an extraordinary amount of information that the public has come forward with and he’s refused to do anything,” Shaw said.

Still, Shaw said she recognized political change is going to take time, which is why the protesters who had been camped outside Kansas City, Missouri, City Hall for the past three weeks agreed to end their occupation.

“We’re making sure that those (demands) are progressing forward, so as long as we have forward movement, the ceasefire will remain in place,” Shaw said.

But Shaw said police commissioners should expect to see protesters at their meeting next month.

“We’re going to be at every police commissioner board meeting until Rick Smith is terminated,” Shaw said.

Howard said structural change in the department needs to come from the top and that addressing racism and police brutality should be the most important issues for the board.

“The only conversation that should take place in this season… is a conversation about how the Board of Police Commissioners is going to correct … the inadequacies, the racism, the police brutality against Black people in this city,” Howard said.

“If that is not the genuine, strategic aim of the Board of Police Commissioners, then they are no longer serving the interests of the community,” Howard said.

The board will meet next at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, November 10.

Slow news days are a thing of the past. As KCUR’s news director, I want to cut through the noise, provide context to the headlines, and give you news you can use in your daily life – information that will empower you to make informed decisions about your neighborhood, your city and the region. Email me at lisa@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @larodrig.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and powerful storytelling.
Your donation helps make nonprofit journalism available for everyone.