Civil Rights Groups Again Ask Feds to Investigate Police Brutality and Racism at KCPD
Lora McDonald, executive director of MORE2, said on Friday, June 23, 2023, that her group and other Kansas City civil rights organizations are urging the Department of Justice to investigate the Kansas City Police Department for violating the constitutional rights of Black residents and for racial discrimination. A group of civil rights organizations on Friday again asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate constitutional violations, excessive force complaints and discrimination against Black people by the Kansas City Police Department. The group, led by the Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity, or MORE2, includes the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City and other faith and social activist groups. In a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice, released publicly by the group Friday, the activists said federal authorities have not addressed “the deep concerns of citizens, namely the disparate treatment of Black Kansas Citians, from disproportionate stops to use of force.” The letter cited “systemic constitutional violations, an alarming amount of excessive force violations and the targeting of Black motorists to achieve ticket quotas.”
The same organizations were part of a group that filed a similar letter to the Justice Department in July 2021. Since then, the Justice Department has launched an investigation of employment practices to determine whether racism is a factor in the hiring and promotions of Black KCPD officers. Lora McDonald, executive director for MORE2, said during a press conference Friday that Dylan Pifer, who fatally shot Terrance Bridges in May 2019, continues to work as a Kansas City police officer. “There’s case after case after case of officers who aren’t being held accountable,” McDonald said. “We’ve been seeing these things over and over. It’s a pattern. It’s a practice of sweeping things under the rug.” The group is asking the Justice Department to conduct a pattern and practice investigation of the Kansas City police force.
Sgt. Jacob Becchina, a police department spokesman, told The Star in an email that Police Chief Stacey Graves takes the concerns of the community “very seriously.” “Since she was appointed Chief, she has made relationships a priority. She has met with community groups, key stakeholders, and instituted regular listening sessions to hear the community’s concerns,” Becchina wrote. Becchina said the police department has cooperated, and would continue to cooperate, with the Justice Department.
In the 22-page letter to Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, the social activist group laid out examples they said demonstrated a pattern of systemic constitutional violations. The letter pointed to the millions of dollars the police department has paid out to settle civil lawsuits stemming from officers using excessive force against Black residents, the department’s failure to investigate missing Black residents and the slowness of Kansas City police to arrest a white man who shot Ralph Yarl, a Black teen who knocked on the man’s door by mistake. “Black people in Kansas City live in terror of KCPD because of the lack of any accountability,” the letter said. “When an officer uses excessive force, the department claims the force was legal, the prosecutor rarely charges officers, and if an individual is lucky, they will get a settlement and KCPD will not make any policy changes.” The letter notes that Kansas City, unlike most major U.S. cities, does not control its own police department. As a result, the police department is not accountable to city residents. Four of the five members of the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners board, which controls the police department, are appointed by the Missouri governor. The fifth member is the mayor of Kansas City. In their letter, the activists say the board is “essentially a rubber stamp for anything the department puts before it.” “To this point, no amount of public complaints, lawsuits and judgments/settlements have been enough to spark a shred of change,” the letter said.
In September, the Justice Department announced it had launched an investigation of employment practices at KCPD to determine if the force engaged in racial discrimination in hiring and promoting Black officers. Federal investigation arrived months after The Star published a series of stories examining allegations of racism and harassment inside KCPD. The series profiled Herb Robinson, a Black detective, who believes he was racially profiled by two of his colleagues. The stop was captured on dash camera, in which his colleagues can be heard calling him “dumbass” and a “retard.” Robinson has filed a civil racial discrimination lawsuit against KCPD.
Leaders of the group said they hoped a federal investigation would result in the police department entering into a consent decree with the Justice Department. Such a move would compel the police department to address problems with the use of force and failure to properly train and discipline officers. “The KCPD’s misconduct will continue to go unfettered and unchecked until an independent outside agency intervenes – and the federal government is the only independent entity that has the power to intervene,” according to the letter.
On June 16, the Justice Department released the results of a two-year investigation of Minneapolis police begun after the murder of George Floyd. The investigation found that Minneapolis officers used excessive force, including “unjustified deadly force,” and violated the rights of people engaged in constitutionally protected speech.