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Those who are calling for a civil rights investigation into the fatally discriminatory patterns and practices of the Kansas City Police Department are not going on a hunch out of nowhere that something is amiss.
Their 15-page letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, which everyone should read and then read again, details with excruciating specificity the KCPD’s record of excessive force, of excusing and defending excessive force, and of refusing to work with prosecutors to hold their own accountable for brutality, most often against Black and brown Kansas Citians.
An investigation by the civil rights division of the Department of Justice really is the only hope for a department that can’t and won’t police itself.
If the feds do, God willing, respond to this invitation, we suggest that they pack the sturdiest possible hip boots, because the muck is deep.
Here are just the first few of the wrongful deaths and unprovoked attacks cited in the Urban Council’s letter to Garland:
▪ In November of 2013, KCPD officers investigating a carjacking said they heard gunshots. In response, they fired at least 21 times at Phillippe Lora as he drove away in his SUV. As it turns out, Lora was unarmed, had committed no crime and had not threatened the officers or anyone else.
Lora was paralyzed as a result, and his injury cost Kansas City taxpayers a $4.8 million settlement. The officers who shot Lora, Dakota Merrill and Shane Mellot, are still on the force.
▪ That same year, another unarmed Black man, 24-year-old Ryan Stokes, was fatally shot from behind by a Kansas City police officer. Officers had chased Ryan into a Power & Light District parking lot after he was falsely accused of stealing another man’s iPhone. After the shooting, KCPD described Stokes as a thief with a gun who was in a standoff with police and had refused to drop his weapon.
Daniel Straub, an African American officer involved in the chase that night, later testified that Stokes did not have a gun, had not stolen an iPhone and was complying with Straub’s orders when he was shot from behind by another officer, William Thompson, who is still on the force. It was Straub who was fired, for contradicting the official narrative.
▪ In May of 2019, KCPD officer Dylan Pifer shot and killed Terrance Bridges, who was also unarmed. “Unsurprisingly,” the letter to the DOJ says, “KCPD found no issues with the killing and Pifer was returned to active duty a mere nine days after the shooting.”
On and on these narratives go, dully repetitive unless one of these crimes happen to have ended, shortened or ruined your life.
Please do read the letter. Because if you do, you’ll see that the PR effusions from the police department and the police board could not be more dishonest.
Every officer with a conscience, and we assume you are many, ought to hope that the DOJ shows up ASAP, because this on-and-on-we-go horror show undermines everything you are and do.
On Tuesday morning, Catholics from some two dozen predominantly white Kansas City parishes will gather at City Hall to pray the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary for racial justice. They chose the date to coincide with the Board of Police Commissioners’ meeting, “although their focus of praying the Rosary,” organizers said, “includes many more inequities and injustices than those making daily headlines.”
Amen. And DOJ, please make the need for these prayer vigils less urgent.