Kansas City announces police reform amid George Floyd protests
A coalition of civil rights organizations demanded Wednesday that Police Chief Rick Smith be fired. But Mayor Quinton Lucas said Smith would remain “as we weather our current crisis and also as we continue to address our issues related to violent crime and the high number of homicides in Kansas City.”
Lucas said after a closed meeting of the Kansas City Police Board of Commissioners that the city would ask an outside agency to review all police-involved shootings; create whistleblower protections for officers; end a department policy of not sending probable cause statements to prosecutors in officer-involved shootings; review officers’ use of tear gas and projectiles; provide updates to the city council on the department’s community engagement efforts.
Lucas said he hoped a review of tear gas and projectile use would lead to a new policy in the near future.
The city announced Wednesday that $2.5 million in private funding has been donated to buy police body cameras.
Lucas said the changes addressed long-standing issues, not only concerns raised during the protests over the death of George Floyd, the handcuffed black man who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police on May 25.
“It also recognizes that this moment is not about individual protests on the plaza or in Kansas City,” Lucas said. “But instead how we can modernize policing, how we can build trust between police and our communities, and frankly, how we can help solve many of the challenges we have in Kansas City’s violent crime.”
The announcement came shortly after Jackson County’s prosecutor, Jean Peters Baker, said she was reaching out to Kansas City protesters claiming to be victims of police misconduct, urging them to report their allegations online.
Peaceful daytime demonstrations in Kansas City often have devolved into violence at night. Police have been pelted with rocks and bottles, and officers have used pepper spray and tear gas on protesters. On Thursday, 22-year-old Matthew Madden, who initially was arrested on suspicion of throwing water bottles at police officers during Tuesday’s protests, was charged in federal court with illegally possessing a firearm.
But demonstrations have grown calmer, with protesters marching peacefully Thursday night through the upscale Country Club Plaza restaurant and shopping district without any sign of a police presence.
“We have already asked for an investigation of one incident in which protesters were pepper-sprayed by police,” Baker’s office said. Video shared on social media showed a confrontation Wednesday during a protest at the Country Club Plaza in which officers appeared to use pepper spray on two protesters after one of them yelled at police.
Baker stressed that her office has not filed charges against protesters arrested for minor offenses such as walking on the street or stepping off a curb. Those charges, she said, were municipal counts filed by the city prosecutor’s office.
Kansas City police have arrested about 200 people during the protests. Lucas said he would consider pardoning all nonviolent protesters.
In the St. Louis area, where hundreds continued to march Thursday, two rewards are being offered in response to violent outbreaks this week.
The St. Louis Regional Crime Commission said Thursday it is offering a reward of up to $100,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the shooter or shooters who opened fire early Tuesday on a police line, leaving four officers with non-life threatening injuries.
The group CrimeStoppers also is offering a $40,000 reward in the death of retired St. Louis Police Capt. David Dorn, 77, who was fatally shot by people who broke into a pawn shop early Tuesday. Police Chief John Hayden was among the crowd of mourners who marched Thursday to commemorate Dorn.
“He was a great man,” Dorn’s niece, Tandy Stewart, said. “He did not deserve this … it’s so not worth it.”
In Columbia, the University of Missouri athletes, along with several coaches and school leaders, marched Wednesday to protest racial injustice. The march ended at the Boone County Courthouse, where the protesters took a knee for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the length of time a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck. Sixty-two of the participants also registered to vote.
”This was a clear instance of right versus wrong,” said football coach Eliah Drinkwitz in a Zoom call Thursday. “And we tell our players and people that when something is wrong, to stand up against it. And what happened to George Floyd was wrong.”