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Black women sue Missouri to end state control of Kansas City Police

Two blue police cars are parked on a neighborhood street in daylight. There is a strip of yellow police "Do Not Cross" tape between them. A crowd of people can be seen standing in the far background.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City Police work the scene of a homicide on June 14, 2023 on College Avenue near 74th Street.

A new federal lawsuit argues that the Missouri law cementing state governance of KCPD was created “to keep Black people enslaved.” One of the women is Narene Crosby, whose son Ryan Stokes was killed by KCPD in 2013.

Three Black women filed a federal lawsuit this week against the state of Missouri, alleging that the state’s control of the Kansas City Police Department singles out people by race and creates an unequal system.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in the Western District of Missouri, says the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners’ governance of the department is simply “an effort to keep slavery legal and Black people in chains.”

Kansas City is the only U.S. city that doesn’t have jurisdiction of its police force, a vestige of the Civil War when the Confederacy wanted to control St. Louis and Kansas City and their weapons stockpiles. Of the seats on the five-member board, four are appointed by the governor and the fifth slot is always held by the mayor.

This is the second lawsuit questioning the constitutionality of the state’s control of KCPD. Gwen Grant, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, filed suit in 2021, alleging taxation without representation.

The women who filed the recent lawsuit against Gov. Mike Parson and other state officials are: Narene Crosby, the mother of Ryan Stokes, a 24-year-old man killed by a KCPD officer in 2013; Dr. Barbara Johnson, a retired educator whose son was jailed after a traffic stop; and Dr. Nicole Price, a chemist turned DEIB consultant, who was 15 when police mistakenly raided her family’s Manheim Park home because of a wrong address.

“My family has gotten no apology, no accountability, and no justice. They took my only son and then called it a ‘tragic mistake,’” Crosby said.

KCPD officials had no comment on the lawsuit.

The lawsuit cites the original law, first passed in 1861, that was used "to keep Black people captive, and to deny Black people basic human rights and dignities."

"The legislature passed the police bill with the direct knowledge and awareness that the law would be used to further discriminate against Black people by keeping them enslaved and considered property," the lawsuit says.

The law also takes the democratic will away from voters, the suit says, noting that people get to vote for the Jackson County sheriff.

“KCPD are effectively unaccountable to those whom they police,” the suit says.

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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