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KCUR 89.3 and 41 Action News examine George Floyd’s legacy, one year later.

A Year After George Floyd's Murder, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas Champions 'Bold' Police Reform

Oluwatoyin Akinmoladun chants along with other protesters in Mill Creek Park on May 30 last year.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Oluwatoyin Akinmoladun chants along with other protesters in Mill Creek Park on May 30 last year.

Mayor Quinton Lucas announced a plan to reallocate about one-fifth of the Kansas City Police Department budget that was welcomed by some civil rights leaders in Kansas City but also raised questions about his motives.

After a couple of days of criticism, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas today defended his recent plan for police reform which reallocates part of the Kansas City Police Department's annual budget to social services.

"Well, I still feel very proud about our decision," Lucas said when asked about the plan. "I think what we said was first, the budget is actually increased and then secondarily, there's more responsibility."

Lucas stopped to talk about the issue in the parking lot of the Kansas City Health Department, next to a mobile health unit for free mammograms sponsored by the Black sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha.

Earlier in the week, Lucas pushed a plan through the City Council that would reduce the KCPD budget to 20 percent of the city’s general revenues, which is required by state law. The department now receives a little over 25 percent.

That money, totaling between $42 million and $47 million, would then be allocated to a special fund that the mayor and city council would have authority over, to use for crime prevention, mental health services, conflict resolution training or studying the root causes of crime. The plan also calls for spending an additional $3 million for a new police academy class.

The plan has garnered praise from some civil rights leaders and social justice advocates who wrote an open letter to Lucas, declining his call for a meeting the week of the George Floyd verdict to discuss police reform and accused him of “performative politics.”

One of those signing the letter was Gwen Grant, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City.

But one month later, Grant’s name was included in a press release sent by Lucas’s office to tout his new plan.

According to the press release, Grant said, “This is a refreshing change of course."

“The Urban Council, and our Black Rainbow and Operation Liberation allies commend Mayor Lucas and the Council for taking this bold step to ensure that public safety tax dollars are used to directly address the root causes of violent crime and to make our community safer,” Grant was also quoted as saying in the press release.

Dissenting City Council voices

The plan still has its critics. Four members of the City Council from the Northland were furious about the quick push for the proposal, finalized on the day it was introduced.

Chief Rick Smith issued a statement saying Lucas can already seek more local input through his position as a member of the Board of Police Commissioners. And the police union told the Kansas City Star that the plan is “reckless.”

Northland City Councilwoman Heather Hall, one of the four opposing Lucas’ plan, said Friday that there is already local input with the Kansas City residents who sit on the Board of Police Commissioners. The City Council and the Mayor need to stay in their own lane, she said.

“The police department knows how to run that (agency),” she said. “We are not police officers, and we don’t know what that means to run the police and protect our city and we are getting out of our lane and we shouldn’t do that.”

And some of the social justice activists are not as happy as Grant is about Lucas’s plan.

Keji Akinmoladun, a Kansas City woman who organized protests at the Country Club Plaza last May after the Floyd murder, said Friday that she doesn’t think Lucas' plan goes far enough. She’d like to see a larger percentage of the funding either cut or reallocated to services for the community. She also worries the police will ask for and still receive more money.

But Akinmoladun’s feelings about the plan also reveal what some in the Black community feel about Lucas. Akinmoladun thinks Lucas created the plan as a way to court the African American vote for his possible run for U.S. Senate. Lucas has not announced that intention.

“I feel like too much damage has been done,” Akinmoladun said of the mayor’s relationship with the Black community.

“Mayor Lucas wasn’t here for us when we needed him, especially during the Black Lives Matter protests. He was only there a few times, and said what we wanted to hear, but our demands weren’t met.”

Part of Lucas's obvious frustration during the unveiling of his plan was about the city’s high homicide rate — it seems on track to repeat or exceed the record 180 murders last year. Increasing the police budget every year has not helped, he said.

"We have a crisis in Kansas City with homicides, with violent crime. We've had it for my entire life," Lucas said on Saturday. "So the answer is not to just do the same thing, shrug your shoulders, give some money, not ask any questions afterward. So I think it is very clear."

That sentiment was echoed by City Councilwoman Melissa Robinson, who supports Lucas’s plan. She tweeted Friday that the homicide rate continues to climb, despite funding for police and even while funds are diminished to address the root causes of violent crime.

“Imagine if the majority of homicide victims in this city were white,” she tweeted. “Would we be this laissez-faire about holding entities accountable for the role they play in public safety? Would our theory of change be to increase investing with diminishing returns?”

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
I’m a veteran investigative reporter who came up through newspapers and moved to public media. I want to give people a better understanding of the criminal justice system by focusing on its deeper issues, like institutional racism, the poverty-to-prison pipeline and police accountability. Today this beat is much different from how reporters worked it in the past. I’m telling stories about people who are building significant civil rights movements and redefining public safety. Email me at lowep@kcur.org.
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