KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Following a guilty verdict in the police killing of George Floyd, local activists are determined to keep the momentum for change going.
It comes as President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris call for federal police reform.
For weeks in the summer of 2020, protesters filled Kansas City streets, pleading for justice and demanding change.
“I hope that this isn’t a moment to sing kumbaya but we need to make sure we’re moving policy and this never happens again,” said Justice Horn, community activist.
Kansas City police did adapt changes demonstrators called for. Police shootings are now investigated by outside agencies. Force policies on how to respond during resistance have been updated. KCPD officers now wear body cams.
Activists also want assurances tear gas, rubber bullets and other harsh crowd control tactics won’t be used in future rallies.
“I think there needs to be more de-escalation policy as well as diversity training in our community. Citizens shouldn’t be tear gassed,” Horn said.
But a new First Amendment policy crafted by KCPD Chief Rick Smith, would still allow those measures.
Criminal justice expert, Park University professor and former KCPD major, Dr. John Hamilton, said George Floyd’s murder and continued public outcry for change is spurring needed, never before seen scrutiny of policing.
“I think it’ll be a long road, but I think it’s a doable road to try to make some of the changes that actually I think will begin to meet some of the desires of both sides,” said Dr. Hamilton, chair of Park University’s Criminal Justice department.
A critical step in the process is setting expectations: what the community needs and wants from its police and how police balance that with doing their jobs.
“You’ll have to plug along because as you unearth one rock, you’ll find another issue that’s there and then deal with that one. One change to lead to another,” Hamilton said.
Policy alone won’t do it. Hamilton points out in Floyd’s death, rules were broken left and right. Sometimes small, tangible changes can have a huge impact.
“Momentum is built through success along the way and think implementing some of these and seeing one, from policing standpoint that I can do these things and still be safe, still be effective and meet what community expects out of me, that becomes a win,” Hamilton said.
It starts with meetings like one being held in Kansas City late Wednesday afternoon, with police, the mayor, and community activists.
Experts say the Floyd case’s power is that it was serious enough, everyone paid attention. Communities who have long felt ignored, now have a seat at the table to begin the long, hard work of meaningful changes.