Clutching blue, white and green balloons, relatives of Dantae Franklin made the slow walk at dusk to the spot at 34th Street near Prospect Avenue where their 24-year-old loved one likely took his last breath.
This is where Kansas City police fatally shot Franklin, a Leavenworth resident, on Aug. 6 after police say he refused their commands to drop a handgun he had leveled at them.
But relatives say they aren’t ready to accept the police account of what happened to Franklin on that Sunday afternoon.
“The Kansas City Police Department shot and killed my cousin using excessive force,” Franklin’s cousin, Nasha Green, said moments after relatives prayed and released the balloons during a family vigil last week.
“They shot him 13 times,” Green said. “This is far from over. We want justice. This has to stop. They can’t keep killing people (and) thinking that it is OK.”
Franklin’s death is part of a recent spate of fatal police shootings in the Kansas City area that has angered some community leaders. Since early February, Kansas City police officers have fatally shot four men. Coming nine days apart, the most recent two shootings have especially riled the community.
“It has been stated that Kansas City is not a part of the continued ravaging of black males by systematic police brutality as pertains to deadly force,” said the Rev. Vernon P. Howard, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City. “At SCLC, this is not our conclusion.”
The Kansas City Police Department said that each investigation has its own set of unique circumstances and actions by those involved. Its officers are committed to keeping the community safe and strive for every encounter to end peacefully, police said.
“Unfortunately, there are times when officers put themselves in harm’s way to protect others from an imminent threat,” said Capt. Stacey Graves. “While most times officers utilize de-escalation techniques, there are situations that require an immediate response to preserve life.”
Franklin was shot Aug. 6. Nine days before, on July 28, officers fatally wounded Rodney E. Jacobs outside of a residence at 43rd Street and Chestnut Avenue after a domestic incident. Witnesses said Jacobs yelled “shoot me” multiple times at police officers who responded to the incident. Police said they negotiated with him for 20 minutes before he pointed the gun at officers and drew fire.
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference and More2, the Metropolitan Organization for Racial and Economic Equity, had a rally Sunday for local faith leaders to speak out against police brutality in the metro and across the country. About 50 people attended.
“The public barely knows about these shootings,” said Lora McDonald, executive director of More2. “What is happening that we don’t even know about? As we are lamenting overt racism across this nation, let’s look at what is happening in this community.”
Community activists are clamoring for more police accountability and transparency. They noted that the recent shootings in Kansas City occurred during the same week that marked the three-year anniversary of the death of Michael Brown, who was fatally shot during an altercation with a Ferguson, Mo., police officer.
The Kansas City shootings also coincide with the four-year anniversary of the death of Ryan Stokes, who was fatally shot by a Kansas City police officer on July 28, 2013, after a foot chase near the Power & Light District over a reported stolen cellphone.
“These two incidences of deadly force near the anniversary of Ferguson and near the anniversary of Ryan Stokes prove that this problem continues to plague the nation and our city,” Howard said.
Many credited former Police Chief Darryl Forté for helping the city remain calm in times of police shootings. Forté retired in May and was replaced on Tuesday by Rick Smith as the city’s new police chief. At his swearing-in ceremony, Smith vowed to continue Forté’s work with the community.
Kansas City officers are routinely trained to de-escalate situations when they encounter someone armed with a weapon, Capt. Graves said.
Graves said the department follows up with the family of those involved and continues to provide assistance and resources to those in crisis to prevent future incidents.
Kansas City has its own detectives investigate officer-involved shootings to see if the officer broke the law and determine if those involved followed department policies.
“We work cooperatively with the prosecutor’s office, who oversees and responds to the scenes of officer-involved shootings,” she said. “We encourage an open line of communication with the community who may have concerns.”
In 2012, the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office began independently reviewing each officer-involved shooting and use-of-force incident to determine whether the officer’s actions were justified. The findings are published on the prosecutor’s website, and letters detailing their findings are sent to the law enforcement official where the incidents occur.
Dantae Franklin had spent the weekend of Aug. 5-6 in Kansas City reconnecting with relatives. He was looking for a ride back to Leavenworth when he encountered police.
A woman told officers that Franklin had assaulted her. Franklin raced north on Prospect and ran east on 34th Street. Two police officers followed him, one on foot and another in a patrol car.
As the officers neared, Franklin dropped a handgun on the ground. When Franklin picked it up and pointed it at the officers, both officers shot him. Franklin was taken to a hospital, where he died.
“My cousin loved life. He had a good heart and did not deserve to die like he did,” Green said. “Regardless of what happened, there is a life lost and a family grieving. This is all too common unfortunately in this world, and this needs to stop.”
Nine days earlier, the Jacobs family lost a life to a Kansas City police shooting.
There were no signs of trouble with Rodnika Jacobs’ older brother Rodney the day before officers fatally shot him during a domestic incident near 43rd Street and Chestnut Avenue.
On July 28, police encountered Jacobs after he was involved in a domestic violence incident with a woman and was armed with a gun. Arriving officers spent 20 minutes trying to convince Jacobs to drop his weapon, but he refused, police said.
A man who lives close to the home of Jacobs’ girlfriend said Jacobs held the gun to his own head in a threatening manner before he turned the weapon on police.
“He yelled, ‘Shoot me, shoot me,’ ” said a neighbor said. “And then they shot him.”
The officers rendered first aid to Jacobs before he was rushed to a hospital, where he later died.
Rodnika Jacobs said a witness told relatives that Jacobs was shot five times.
“I think that it could have been resolved differently,” Rodnika Jacobs said. “Even if it was the case where they had to shoot him, I don’t think that many times was necessary.”
Jacobs, a 21-year-old father of two, had been living with his mother to help pay the bills. On his days off, Jacobs babysat his nephew to give a break to Rodnika, who is a single parent.
“He was a great dad to his boys, always bought them things and made sure they had what they needed,” Jacobs said.
Graves said both recent officer-involved shootings remain under investigation.
The department is studying the idea of equipping many of its officers with body-worn cameras as an added layer of transparency.
Some community leaders say that would be a step in the right direction.
“The recent spike in officer-involved shootings across the nation and in our local community gives credence to the need for body cameras to capture an accurate account of each encounter,” said Gwendolyn Grant, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City. “In the case of these recent officer-involved shootings, it is imperative that the Kansas City Police Department and the Jackson County prosecutor conduct a thorough and transparent investigation to ensure that any time lethal force is used, it is justified.
“Under these circumstances, transparency is paramount. Transparency builds trust,” Grant said.
Recent police shootings
▪ On Aug. 7, Independence police fatally shot Christopher K. Sales after he stole a patrol car and crashed it into a mobile home in Blue Summit.
▪ On July 11, a Leavenworth police officer shot and killed 47-year-old Antonio Garcia Jr. According to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, which is investigating the shooting, an officer was investigating a possible stolen vehicle when there was an altercation and Garcia was shot. Relatives say the officer fired about five shots as Garcia tried to drive away, hitting Garcia in the head and chest.
▪ On July 16, a Kansas City police officer shot a man who fired into a crowd of people as the bars closed in Westport. Officers were patrolling the area near 40th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue when they spotted the shooter. The suspect was treated at a nearby hospital and lived.
▪ On July 28, Kansas City police officers fatally wounded Rodney E. Jacobs outside of a residence at 43rd Street and Chestnut Avenue after a domestic incident. Witnesses said Jacobs yelled “shoot me” multiple times at police officers who responded to the incident. Police said they negotiated with him for 20 minutes before he pointed the gun at officers.
▪ On Aug. 6, Kansas City police officers fatally shot Dantae Franklin after he pointed a handgun at the officers, who both shot him. Franklin was taken to a hospital, where he died.