A sister of Terrance M. Bridges, who was shot and killed by a Kansas City police officer in 2019, spoke to the Board of Police Commissioners Tuesday, asking for accountability.
Tierra Cox flew in from Chicago and attended a rally for women whose sons were killed by police before speaking to the police board. At the meeting, she was joined by several residents who demanded the removal of Police Chief Rick Smith and local control of the police department.
Bridges was unarmed when Kansas City police officer Dylan Pifer shot and killed him on May 26, 2019. Police have said Bridges was accused in a carjacking and resisted arrest.
“I’m here today seeking justice,” Cox told the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners, which is appointed by the governor to oversee the police department.
“No one is screaming his name, nothing has been done about the officer who killed him. He is still working and living his life. Now that to me is the problem.”
The Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office presented the case to a grand jury, which ruled that no criminal charges would be filed.
Kansas City residents speak
Five others who joined Cox in making comments Tuesday demanded that Smith resign or be fired. They said Smith has failed to hold officers accountable and has allowed many of them to return to duty after they were accused of violent crimes against Black people.
“There has still been no thought that it shows concern whether or not this chief if the right person for the job,” said Sheryl Ferguson, an organizer with It’s Time 4 Justice.
“Instead of hearing real conversations to speak with the groups and talk about ways to improve his actions, we have only heard the arrogance of “I am not willing to resign or retire,’ never asking what can I do better?” Ferguson said.
Tuesday’s comments by Cox and others follow months of scrutiny for the Kansas City Police Department.
Earlier in the day, Cox spoke during a rally in support of women whose sons were fatally shot by police in Kansas City.
A few dozen people gathered Tuesday at Illus Davis Park behind City Hall, holding signs that read “support moms,” “transparency,” and “local control, Smith must go,” in reference to the continued calls to fire police chief Rick Smith.
“On behalf of the mothers whose sons have been killed, we are seeking justice as an entire community,” said Pateisha Royal, with Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity, also known as MORE2. “We know that justice comes when those who are in power, when those who have been inflicting injustice are held accountable.”
In recent weeks, local civil rights and activist groups renewed their calls for the removal of Smith, citing the killings of several Black men by police and the number of officers facing criminal charges of excessive force.
Kansas City police
Sgt. Jacob Becchina, a police spokesman, said the chief has no plans to resign.
The police department has implemented a series of reforms and policy initiatives in response to public demands Becchina said. The department is issuing body cameras for all uniformed officers, requesting outside agencies investigate police shootings, and requiring an officer to intervene if they see a fellow officer use excessive force.
The police department has worked with several groups and organized community events to enhance relations, Becchina said.
“We have many many community relations initiatives; our social services program pairs social workers with police to proactively address issues that could affect crime, it was the first of its kind in the country,” he said.
The police department has doubled the number of community interaction officers in the last four years, two are assigned at each the city’s six patrol divisions, covering about 20 hours a day, Becchina said.
Several speakers at Tuesday’s meeting spoke about the need to improve the strained relations between law enforcement and the communities they serve.
Doug Shafer, a longtime Kansas City resident, spoke of Cameron Lamb, who was fatally shot in December 2019 while sitting in his pickup truck in his own backyard at 41st Street and College Avenue. Shafer said Lamb had been one of his students when he taught at Hogan Preparatory Academy.
Kansas City police detective Eric DeValkenaere, 42, was indicted last year on charges of first-degree involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action in the shooting.
Too many young Black men live their lives in fear they might have an encounter with police that could end with deadly results, Shafer said.
“We are overdue for deliverance from lack of accountability,” Shafer said. “Why can’t a board of political appointees summon the courage to do the right thing, because they are less accountable to the people of Kansas City, than to their political connections that got them on the board.”
“This board of one elected and board appointees of the governor are a political embarrassment to the city where the police department is a ward of the state - 82 years is long enough for dependency and is past time for local control of this police department.”
The police board consists of six members: Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, Bishop Mark Tobert, Cathy Dean, Nathan Garrett, Don Wagner and David Kenner.
Shooting on video
Other speakers at Tuesday’s meeting said greater transparency is needed because the police department has previously refused to hand over charging documents to Jackson County prosecutors when officers have been accused in fatal shootings or of using excessive force.
Khadijah Hardaway, a community organizer, demanded that investigators release video of the killing of Malcolm D. Johnson, who was fatally shot by a Kansas City police officer March 25 during a confrontation at a gas station at 63rd Street and Prospect Avenue.
“We want to see if the highway patrol’s account of what happened in that gas station, actually, is the same account that’s on the videotape. We need you to release that, like, yesterday,” Hardaway said.
Becchina said the shooting remains under investigation by the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
Hardaway urged residents to make phone calls to police officials as well as elected leaders and demand the release of the surveillance video.
“If you can’t search your conscience and you can’t start telling the truth, if you can’t start showing transparency, I suggest you pack your bags,” Hardaway said.
Lamb and Johnson were among several Black men killed by Kansas City police in recent years.
Commissioner Nathan Garrett said the concerns of residents are not lost on him and other police commissioners.
“While I might be one of those people they think doesn’t listen, it is not true. I do,” Garrett said. “They matter and they’re important in this conversation.”
Garrett also said it was equally important that those who support the police department be just as vocal.
“But now’s the time when we need to hear from you too. I would encourage that, our friends,” he said.