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Kansas City Activists And Civic Leaders React To The Guilty Verdict Against Derek Chauvin

Rev. Cassandra Wainwright addressed a group of Kansas Citians who gathered following the jury verdict that found a former Minneapolis police officer guilty of murdering George Floyd.
Carlos Moreno
Rev. Cassandra Wainwright addressed a group of Kansas Citians who gathered following the jury verdict that found a former Minneapolis police officer guilty of murdering George Floyd.

The guilty verdict prompted tears, relief and joy for local civil rights and racial equity advocates, who are still determined to drive forward local police reform.

Kansas City’s African American civic leaders and activists are reacting with relief to the jury's guilty verdict in the case of Derek Chauvin, convicting the former Minneapolis police officer of murdering 46-year-old George Floyd last year.

The incident of police brutality caught on cell phone video prompted weeks of protests in Kansas City and other communities throughout Kansas and Missouri, the nation and the world.

"I really am pretty much speechless about the fact that justice has been served in this case," said Gwen Grant, president and CEO of the Urban League of Kansas City. "I had so much pent-up anxiety and fear about the outcome because, for far too long, we have not been the beneficiaries of a just system."

"I have two beautiful, talented, Black grandsons, and our hope is that at some point it will be safe for them to walk the street, to walk in their neighborhood, to drive a car without fear of being murdered by the police, who are supposed to protect and serve us," she said.

Grant and other community leaders and activists have called for months for the resignation of Kansas City's police Chief Rick Smith, and for reform of the Kansas City Police Department.

The verdict in the Chauvin case, Grant said, changes none of that.

"The huge difference here is this," she said. "I witnessed the Minneapolis chief of police and other ranking officers take the stand ... and (speak) up for accountability and justice and transparency and ethics and morals in law enforcement. We do not get that type of leadership in Kansas City."

Instead, Grant said, Chief Smith has put up walls against transparency and accountability for Kansas City officers.

The prospect of local protests or marches in reaction to the verdict in Minnesota is still unclear. A vigil is planned for Saturday on the south steps of Kansas City Hall.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas tweeted about the verdict, voicing support for the jury's decision.

Cecilia Belser-Patton is the principle and cultural curator of JUST Systems, and works with One Struggle KC, which has organized protests in the past.

She said she cried when she first heard the verdict.

"What I'm fearful of ... is that this will be portrayed as if Derek Chauvin is just another bad apple, as opposed to the system of policing being bad."

She rejects the idea that local protest groups and advocates for police reform will get a boost from the jury's decision.

"I think that they have always been energized — I think they have always been fighting to various degrees," she said. "What I'm interested in (today) is people allowing us the space to heal and be human, and not feel like we have to be fighting all the time."

To that end, Belser-Patton said the group has yet to plan any actions in response to the Chauvin verdict.

Local activist Justice Horn, who has a hand in organizing Saturday's City Hall vigil, said the case's conclusion gives Kansas Citians a chance to come together and rejoice.

"This is what we were marching for," he said. "I think it is, without a doubt, a moment for our community, as well as our country, to breathe for a little bit."

Horn said he hopes the vigil can provide some of that for attendees.

"It's ... a moment for us to heal, as well as remember that this is justice for one Black life, but that the fight needs to continue on and that we need to continue to make strides not only nationally, but especially here locally," he said.

As culture editor, I oversee KCUR’s coverage of race, culture, the arts, food and sports. I work with reporters to make sure our stories reflect the fullest view of the place we call home, so listeners and readers feel primed to explore the places, projects and people who make up a vibrant Kansas City. Email me at luke@kcur.org.
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