Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forté on Sunday defended officers’ handling of protesters, including the use of pepper spray, at presidential candidate Donald Trump’s downtown rally.
Forté said on Twitter that the protesters on Saturday evening included a “heavy presence of known anarchists” and “outside agitators.”
Four people were arrested, and police used the pepper spray on two occasions during Trump’s visit three days before the Missouri primary on Tuesday.
Chris Stokes, 33, of Kansas City, who attended the protest to show that he does not believe in what Trump stands for, posted a video to YouTube of police using pepper spray on protesters.
“It was very noncombative,” Stokes said of the protest. “People were yelling stuff across the street at each other. There was a lot of chanting but not a feel of, you know, people wanting to start any actual confrontations with each other.”
He said it’s important to know when watching the video that police made it clear earlier in the evening to stay on the sidewalk.
“Anytime anyone would step off a little bit, they were like, ‘Get back on sidewalk,’ ” Stokes said.
Early in the evening, Stokes heard that police had used pepper spray on people who had entered the street.
“The vast majority of people there were there to be numbers outside, chant and hold signs,” Stokes said.
Toward the end of the rally, a handful of more radical people, however, tried to organize others to link arms and walk into the street, Stokes said. The majority of people didn’t join in, he said.
That group linked arms and entered the street. Stokes said the people were backing into the street to show the officers they weren’t being aggressive or violent.
“The reason I tweeted the video originally to KCPD … there was the one officer who walked up the street after the spraying had begun and just started spraying everybody who was standing on the sidewalk that was obeying the orders,” Stokes said.
On his blog Sunday, Forté said the video “is a small moment in time and does not depict what led up to the incident.”
Forté said there was a bomb threat at the Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland as the rally started. Outside, he said, police were being surrounded and having to break up disturbances. The mounted patrol was called in, and one police horse was “assaulted,” the chief said.
“Some of the people gathered outside began to put on protective equipment (gas masks),” he said. “Several of them tried to rush the front doors of the theater, blocking Main Street in the process.”
Forté said the demonstrators were warned they would be sprayed if they did not follow commands.
“When the crowd refused to obey police commands, officers had to deploy pepper spray on two occasions throughout the evening,” he said, adding that spray was used in “short bursts” and later with “long streams.”
Earlier on Sunday, Forté tweeted to praise the “coordination, calmness and composure” of the police and said their actions were “remarkable” during “very stressful conditions.” He said on his blog there were no injuries “beyond the temporary discomfort of pepper spray.”
Forté also noted that downtown was full of people for the Big 12 men’s basketball tournament, and police had to protect them, as well.
The police chief said he was scheduled to begin vacation on Friday, but he decided to delay it when he learned Trump was having a campaign rally here.
Stokes said he didn’t post the video in an attempt to say that police are bad.
“There were people not obeying what police told them,” he said. “I do think that unleashing pepper spray on an entire crowd because a few people were non-aggressively going into the street is over the top.”
Stokes said he worries that people might think his video is a bad reflection on the Kansas City Police Department. He doesn’t think that.
“I think our police department is much more restrained than a lot are,” he said. “It was just a bad moment for them. I don’t want people taking away that Kansas City is a violent place. And I also don’t want them thinking that it was a violent protest because of 1 minute and 20 seconds I caught on film.”
Most of all, he wants people to see that Kansas City has loud opposition to Trump.