© 2023 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
KCUR 89.3 and 41 Action News examine George Floyd’s legacy, one year later.

Some Skeptics In Kansas City 'Don't Believe We Have A Race Problem' A Year After George Floyd's Murder

Theresa Kelsey believes police serve communities well and do not receive the respect they deserve.
Laura Ziegler
KCUR 89.3
Theresa Kelsey believes police serve communities well and do not receive the respect they deserve.

In these polarized times, it’s no surprise that there are those who condemn the protests, believe police are unfairly villified, and question the current conversation about racial injustice George Floyd’s death inspired.

The 44-year-old white woman behind the counter of a Blue Springs gun shop only agreed to talk to me if I didn’t use her name.

“I have a distinctive voice,” she said, not wanting to be on record with anything “political.”

She was one of more than two dozen people I tried to interview about George Floyd's death and the debate it sparked about racial justice. I was looking for those who were skeptical about the impact of the incident on the conversation.

This gun-shop worker said she “felt terrible” about what happened to George Floyd.

“But he also should never have gone into the store using fake money,” she said. “And when the cops caught him, (he said) ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.’ You’re breathing enough to cry about your Mom and everything. He should’ve just sat there, and he’d probably still be alive today.”

She believes we do have “a racial problem” in the country, but she blames the media for blowing it out of proportion.

The media totally outplays it," she said. “They make the country try and divide itself (by saying) everything is race. Yes, we have a racial problem. But we have to get over that thing now, everyone has to come together.”

Polls show a majority of Americans believe there is racial inequity in policing and that law enforcement should be held accountable.

But while public opinion has shifted, the impact of George Floyd’s death has been polarized in much the same way issues of everything from voting rights to COVID-19 restrictions have been polarized, largely along a partisan divide.

A CBS News poll released after the guilty verdict against Derick Chauvin revealed 90 percent of Democrats believe the jury reached the right verdict, compared with 54 percent of Republicans. That means that almost half — 46 percent — of Republicans didn’t believe Chauvin should have been convicted of murder.

Pam Grisafe had questions about the veracity of the video itself. She agrees that the media inflames divisiveness.

“I don’t believe we have a race problem. I really and truly don’t,” Grisafe said,

A youthful, 63-year-old white woman, Grisafe also believes the mainstream media has defined the narrative about racial injustice, and she spends her time consuming content from the conservative press.

Visiting on the patio of a local coffee shop, she believes the protests were politically motivated. She points to some of the more heated protests that occurred in Democratically run cities and states, such as the encampment in Seattle known as Chop City — where two Black teenagers were killed, and the thousands who protested in Portland into the fall.

“The mayor of Portland, the governor of Oregon, the governor of Washington, they allowed it to happen,” she said. “They could’ve stopped it, but they elected not to. “

Violent protests in Kansas City were short-lived compared with those in other cities, but not without trouble.

A protester and a Kansas City police officer face off during the May 30 protest on Mill Creek Parkway.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
A protester and a Kansas City police officer face off during the May 30 protest on Mill Creek Parkway.

The weekend after Floyd’s death, what began as a peaceful gathering of hundreds on the Country Club Plaza turned violent as some protestors threw bottle and rocks at police. The police were in full riot gear and stood as a militarized presence. A police car was set on fire.

Some shop windows on the Plaza and along Main Street were broken. Some stores were looted.

Theresa Kelsy, 62, said police were not treated well.

“You know they do so much for the community, and here they’re putting themselves on the line,” she said. “They deserve gratitude and peace.”

Members of the police force and a number of protestors were taken to hospitals with injuries. Dozens of protestors were arrested.

Don Jenkins
Don Jenkins is a former police officer who acknowledges there is a racism problem that needs to be addressed. However, he takes issue with the way protestors confronted police.

Don Jenkins, 50, is a retired Kansas City police officer. He says he supports the right of protestors to demonstrate, but not to break the law.

“You will get noticed if you’re standing, with signs,” he says. “You can shout, but don’t get right in the police officers' face."

Jenkins admits there are bad cops, and they should be held accountable, just as he believes Derek Chauvin was.

He would like to see better training for law enforcement in de-escalation, the use of tear gas and stun guns, restraint tactics and racial bias.

Mayor Quinton Lucas, a Democrat, tried to mediate between police and protestors, at one point taking a knee alongside Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith to show solidarity with the social justice protestors.

But a year later, there are still calls for the chief to resign. And, perhaps more importantly, systemic issues at the root of racial injustice, issues like income, education and health disparities, have shown little sign of improving.

This story is part of 9:29 — The Minutes That Moved Kansas City, a KCUR 89.3 and 41 Action News collaboration about the legacy of George Floyd.

I partner with communities to uncover the ignored or misrepresented stories by listening and letting communities help identify and shape a narrative. My work brings new voices, sounds, and an authentic sense of place to our coverage of the Kansas City region. My goal is to tell stories on the radio, online, on social media and through face to face conversations that enhance civic dialogue and provide solutions.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and powerful storytelling.
Your donation helps make nonprofit journalism available for everyone.