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Kansas City Police Board Sued For ‘Taxation Without Representation’

A Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners meeting in July 2021.
Peggy Lowe
KCUR 89.3
A Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners meeting in July 2021.

Gwen Grant's lawsuit says the board violated the rights of taxpayers under the Hancock Amendment, the citizens’ initiative that limits state revenues and local taxes.

Gwen Grant, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, sued the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners Tuesday, saying the board is violating taxpayers’ and African-Americans’ rights.

Grant cited the state Hancock Amendment, approved by voters in 1980, which limits taxing and spending and can only be used by taxpayers.

“This case is about taxation without representation,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit also says Grant’s constitutional rights were violated because the police board was created and maintained “for a discriminatory purpose” of denying African Americans their right to local control of the police department.

The KCPD has not been under local control since 1939, when it was taken over by a five-member Board of Police Commissioners, made up of the mayor and four appointees of the Missouri governor.

“The state of Missouri has implemented a selection process for the Board of Police Commissioners that disproportionately deprives African-American Missourians of local control of the police which serve their communities, and has done so due at least in part to discriminatory motive,” the suit alleges.

Grant earlier tried to intervene in an ongoing lawsuit brought by the board against Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas and the Kansas City Council. The board wants the court to toss a plan passed in May that reallocates a fifth of the police budget, or about $42 million, to social service and crime prevention programs.

Jackson County Judge Patrick Campbell in July ruled that Grant didn’t have the right to intervene in that lawsuit because it is focused on this year’s fiscal budget. But Campbell kept the legal door open for Grant, saying she had every right to file a lawsuit on her own.

Grant is also leading a coalition of civil rights groups who have called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the Kansas City Police Department for a high rate of violence against Black and Latino people, racist hiring practices and the department's lack of local control.

In a 15-page letter sent in July, groups including the Urban League of Greater Kansas City and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference–KC asked U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to “investigate the disturbing patterns of misconduct, discrimination, and unconstitutional patterns and practices of violent policing targeting communities of color.”

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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