The Urban League of Greater Kansas City, the NAACP, Urban Summit and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference jointly held a press conference on the steps of Kansas City police headquarters in the wake of the federal government sending 100 officers to Kansas City, Missouri, to help fight the increase in violent crime and solve homicides.
The Department of Justice called the new initiative “Operation LeGend” in response to the recent killing of 4-year-old LeGend Taliferro. While some leaders in the community have welcomed the federal resources, Friday’s protest speakers decried the influx of federal officers.
“This is a policy which further militarizes our community and escalates the already elevated possibility of increased bloodshed in our streets.” said Rev. Vernon Howard, the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
About 75 protesters gathered in the street and the sidewalk on the west side of police headquarters while organizers and speakers stood on the steps beyond a broken yellow police tape that had previously blocked off that entrance. Some carried signs memorializing George Floyd and others killed by police.
“We have a brutal police department led by a police chief that does not have any respect for the humanity of black people,” said Gwen Grant, the president and CEO of the Urban League.
“We cannot build trust under his leadership,” she added. “Massive reforms require leadership, and we will not get there with Chief Smith in place.”
The organizers of the rally were unified in denouncing the chief as well as the deployment of the federal officers even though Mayor Quinton Lucas clarified that the federal agents would not be performing policing duties. He said they are here to help solve many of the unsolved homicides and other violence in Kansas City.
Community organizer Justice Horn said Chief Smith is not the kind of police chief for a progressive, 21st century city made of diverse people and culture.
“I’m tired of seeing black and brown people killed in the street at the hands of people who are supposed to serve us,” Horn said.
After the press conference, protesters collected on the steps and chanted slogans directed at the offices above them before parading down Locust street and out of view.
Retired, disabled veteran Melvin Bowie was watching the protesters walk away from the station. He had been standing on the steps holding a protest sign during the press conference.
He said that he stood on those same steps in 1972 protesting police brutality.
“I was in my early 20s when I came down here and did this," he said. “I’m looking at the same thing. Nothing has changed in 50 years.”