KANSAS CITY, Mo. — After the fires were out and the dust settled in the 1968 riots, questions lingered. Why would Kansas City police use that level of force on unarmed teenage students? How did white Kansas Citians respond? And what came after?
Eric Wesson now writes for Kansas City’s longtime black newspaper, THE CALL, but on April 9th, 1968, Wesson sat in his elementary school eight blocks away from high school students walking out of class. As those students protested, police attacked them with pepper spray and tear gas.
He sat down with FOX4’s Loren Halifax to give his perspective.
LH: Why would the cops respond with so much unnecessary force?
EW: Because they could. And you have to consider the culture in Kansas City was still then like, ‘keep the black community oppressed.’ So it was probably the standard norm that that’s the way they responded to things. Things here didn’t really start noticeably changing a little bit probably until the 70’s, middle 70’s. It was still police here that were under the old regime, where that was okay to just pull a black man out of a car and beat him, for no reason at all.
LH: What was your view of the response from the white community?
EW: I don’t really remember there being an outspoken person from the white community saying, ‘hey, stop that. You can’t do that. You can’t treat people like that.’ If there was any outrage or anything spoken about it, it was the black ministers. And they were very, very strong back then. A.L. Johnson, John W. Williams, Earl Abel, and those guys, Reverend Hartsfeld, Henderson Bell. Those guys were pretty — a force to be reckoned with.
Wesson said he noticed a shift started to take place in Kansas City.
EW: The school district got a little bit better. I think during that period as well as when you were doing desegregation from the schools, that got a little bit better. Blacks could buy houses in different part of town because it was still that housing segregation thing that was still going on here. You could buy houses in different parts. The political structure changed a little bit. You had a few more blacks elected to office right after Dr. King’s assassination. And black businesses were able to move and expand out of that Troost/Prospect corridor.
Wesson said he thinks it took something drastic to at least bring attention to the problem.
EW: If there was a good thing that came about it, it did in fact bring situations where we could talk about housing, we could talk about property, we could talk about education. I think it set the stage for that to happen.