A coalition of about 30 faith leaders in Kansas City met with police officials on Friday to discuss protester safety in anticipation of a verdict in the murder trial of a former Minneapolis police officer accused in the killing of George Floyd.
Closing arguments in the trial in Minneapolis of the former police officer Derek Chauvin are expected to begin Monday. Chauvin is charged with murder in George Floyd’s death. Floyd’s killing last year inspired large protests in Kansas City and across the country.
During the summer demonstrations in Kansas City, police were criticized for their use of tear gas and less-lethal munitions to disperse crowds after officers reported that objects were thrown at them.
The meeting Friday included Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith, police chaplains, community interaction officers and a group of pastors led by the Rev. Darron Edwards, lead pastor of United Believers Community Church. The group met about noon Friday at Kansas City Police Department headquarters downtown.
Edwards said the purpose of the meeting was to discuss with police their plans to ensure the safety of protesters who may gather after the verdict.
“Faith leaders have gathered together to understand the plan, to question the plan, to take a look at it, so that we can make sure that as demonstrators and protesters come together, that they are safe,” said Edwards, who helped organize Getting to the Heart of the Matter, an effort between clergy and police aimed at fostering better relations and reducing crime.
Police did not release any specific details of how officers would respond if protests take place.
During last summer’s protests, a video of a Kansas City police officer pepper spraying a man and his teenage daughter, who were at a demonstration, went viral and resulted in a charge against the officer.
Nicholas McQuillen, 38, was charged with fourth-degree misdemeanor assault. A grand jury indictment alleges McQuillen “recklessly caused physical pain to ... a juvenile, by spraying a chemical agent at and/or near her face and eyes.”.
Capt. David Jackson, a police spokesman, said the department has implemented a number of reforms and policies that were informed by last summer’s demonstrations. Those include body-worn cameras for officers and a new policy that explicitly prohibits officers from using less-lethal weapons and munitions, other than chemical agents, “to disperse crowds in the event of an unlawful assembly.”
“I don’t think that the police department will see this as an us against them,” Jackson said.
“There’s an acknowledgment that there is pain and that there is anger and that there is emotion associated with this, so it makes it difficult to dialogue; we’ve all been emotional. It does make that hard. But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s not worth it,” he said.
On Monday in Kansas City, about 40 protesters gathered at Mill Creek Park near the Country Club Plaza to protest the killing of another Black man, Daunte Wright, who was fatally wounded by a police officer after a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota on Sunday.
Edwards said he notified over 200 clergy, community leaders and social advocacy groups of the meeting. He acknowledged that many of those who helped organize the protest demonstrations last summer did not attend.
However, Edwards said he remained hopeful that any tensions between police and residents have relaxed.
“So I keep a trust, even though we all get tired, that if we stay with it, we’ll see the day where Kansas City becomes a safe city, in every ZIP code,” he said.