For those who envisioned a lively debate between the Kansas City police chief and the attorney at the forefront of Ferguson, the luncheon Thursday had to suffice.
There weren’t going to be any fireworks. Not on Chief Darryl Forté’s watch.
The meeting was billed as a fireside chat between Forté and Benjamin Crump, the attorney for Michael Brown’s parents. But moderators asked them separately to respond to different questions. The Q and A was the highlight of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City’s Annual Difference Maker Awards luncheon.
Both men received the award. The audience received honesty about policing and criminal justice, from the perspectives of two black men.
Forté said later that he wanted to make sure that the forum not encourage confrontation or comments that could be perceived as defensive or undermine the morale of his officers, given the national focus on use of force. He wanted his points to focus on Kansas City policing.
So Forté started with his own youth in Kansas City, when as a 5-year-old he remembers seeing the National Guard tanks coming down his grandmother’s street during the rioting after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. The images are still hurtful, something Forté still sees as a measure of disrespect for the community.
That the city began seeing the murder rate spike to more than 100 dead in subsequent years, he sees as partial reaction.
Forté also told of a traffic ticket he still keeps, issued to him before he became an officer. The officer who wrote it was unnecessarily rude, making an impression, and not a good one.
He said he’ll continue efforts to change the promotion process, noting that many African-Americans in the top ranks are nearing retirement.
Crump emphasized that despite recent grand jury decisions not to indict officers, black people still want to believe in the justice system.
But he also noted the language the officer who shot Brown used in his testimony, the description of the dead teenager’s size, using the word demon. As if, Crump said, Brown was viewed as “super-human and sub-human.”
Increased use of body cameras, Crump later said, would help people who don’t see the disparity in treatment understand better through images of questionable police tactics.
“Some people, when they hear ‘black lives matter,’ they just think it’s a cliche,” Crump said.