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Rabbi's Week in Review - 5/8/2023

05/08/2023 04:16:18 PM

May8

Kansas City Police Chief Stacey Graves spoke at our Friday service about some positive changes in how KCPD approaches a number of very challenging issues facing our police force, and she also glossed over other significant problems.  

On the positive side, assigning a liaison (Officer Alex Saragusa) to work specifically with marginalized communities is a much-needed step. I asked for his contact information and will follow up to make sure we get that information. The next step will be to have a meeting with him to reiterate our grave concern with KCPD’s dismal record in how they have treated the LGBTQ+ community, and specifically the trans community.

Two other positives. One is Chief Graves’ focus on enforcing restrictions on guns and establishing greater connections with city leaders, particularly City Council leaders from the predominantly black Third and Fifth districts. As to gun restrictions, while we need much stronger legislation from our state and federal officials, the status quo cannot remain, and we must do all we can to end the plague of gun violence.

This is not going to be solved solely by addressing mental illness. We are not the only country on the planet confronting mental illness. We are unique in the number of gun deaths we tragically and inexcusably allow without any action to change this reality. (Texas is this week’s example of the correlation between loosening gun restrictions and an increase in gun-related deaths.) We become most aware of this tragic reality when we read of the latest mass shooting. However, there is the daily drip of individual gun-related violence for which we have become numb. That is before we even talk about gun-related suicides.

As to connecting with city leaders, this goes to the issue of local control. We are the only major municipality whose controlling authority, the Board of Police Commissioners, is appointed by the governor, rather than by the mayor and city council. In that regard, Chief Graves’ efforts to circumvent the state to the extent possible is admirable and appreciated.

However, Chief Graves also stated that because all members of the Board of Police Commissioners are Kansas City, Missouri, residents, this is somehow tantamount to local control. I dispute that contention. The truth is that the members of the Board of Police Commissioners now and historically are disproportionately white and come from parts of the city west of Troost. Local control of KCPD will not solve every problem, but it is a needed step to engender trust between KCPD and the black and brown communities of Kansas City.

A final thought. While I assume Chief Graves’ intentions are good and she is honest in recognizing the problems facing KCPD, it is a high hurdle to make much needed systemic change as a 25-year member of the force. The problem is a broken system that has been at least decades in the making, if not well over a century.

I have stated in the past and continue to believe that there needs to be a consent agreement entered into between the Department of Justice and KCPD.  KCPD is already under investigation for racism in hiring and employment practices within the department. It is not a big step to have an overall review and overhaul of how KCPD approaches policing and holding the department accountable to an outside body to make real progress. It would serve to take some of the heat off Chief Graves in doing the difficult but desperately needed work of changing the system, and establishing real and meaningful community-oriented policing that upholds the rights of, rather than attacking, marginalized communities in Kansas City.

Sun, May 19 2024 11 Iyyar 5784