Voices filled the air on Prospect Avenue in Kansas City on Friday, with words of mourning, caution and anger in reaction to a week of violence.
From the pulpit, clergy denounced all the killings. On the street, demonstrators hammered home the Black Lives Matter message.
Around a public address system set up in front of the Kansas City Police Department’s East Patrol station at 27th Street and Prospect Avenue, people took turns at a microphone, each giving their own takes on the week’s events to a crowd of more than 100. Some of them marched in protest through the neighborhood.
Smaller gatherings formed elsewhere, as in Lee’s Summit, where a black former police officer organized a rally at City Hall.
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Local clergy holding a meeting at Metropolitan AME Zion Church stopped their proceedings to address what weighed on nearly everyone’s mind: a lone gunman on Thursday fatally shot five police officers in Dallas following a protest there.
Protesters in Dallas had demonstrated against police shootings of black men in Baton Rouge, La., and St. Paul, Minn. Both shootings were captured in part or in whole on cellphone video cameras.
“We have to speak against this senseless killing, most recently in Louisiana and Minnesota,” said Bishop Darryl Starnes Sr., speaking above the din of piano music. “But our hearts also break for what happened last night in Dallas, Texas, because police lives matter too.”
Starnes and 40 other local clergy at the Missouri Annual Conference at Metropolitan AME Zion Church at 2828 Prospect Ave. welcomed Rev. Ken McKoy of St. Louis, who organized a peace walk along East Side streets, as he often does in St. Louis to demonstrate against violence. The peace walk attracted hundreds and at times crossed paths with the more protest-oriented march of demonstrators from the police station.
McKoy used the events of the week to call for gun control legislation.
“Kansas City, you need to say to (U.S. Rep.) Emanuel Cleaver we want, we demand, good gun control legislation,” McKoy said. “We need to ask until they respond in the affirmative.”
Cleaver was a part of a Democratic sit-in to demand a vote on gun control legislation last month.
Mayor Sly James spoke to a crowd of dozens at the church before McKoy led volunteers in fluorescent-yellow vests into the streets to spread their anti-violence message.
“I don’t know the answer to why we have so many people dying in this city, in this state and in this country and then we do nothing,” James said. “Absolutely nothing.”
Down the street from the church, a group of about 100 people gathered on the steps of the Kansas City Police Department East Patrol building named in honor of slain civil rights leader Leon Jordan.
One after another, speakers volunteered to take up the microphone, counseling unity, nonviolence and the sanctity of all life.
Others came to protest with placards and handmade signs reading Black Lives Matter. Among them was 29-year-old Amesha Mack of Kansas City, who grew unhappy with the moderate tones she heard from some speakers.
“We know everyone’s life matters,” Mack said. “But black lives matter. I love everybody, but who’s going to stand up for us if we don’t stand up for ourselves?”
In the crowd, Narene Stokes-James watched and listened, thinking mostly of her son Ryan Stokes, who was shot and killed by Kansas City police in 2013. A grand jury called the shooting justifiable, but Stokes-James has never stopped questioning that decision. To her, the issue of police shootings is personal and familiar.
“Is this supposed to be something new in 2016?” she asked. “It’s more madness. Different madness now, after Dallas.”
In Lee’s Summit, a mostly sanguine demonstration involving about 65 people took place Friday evening at a courtyard in front of City Hall.
Rich Stanford, who once served as a police officer in Florissant, Mo., organized the rally. Stanford said he saw and experienced racism during his career in law enforcement. He said he was the only black officer and the only minority on the police force in Florissant at the time he served from 1994 to 1997.
Stanford sought a permit for the rally at the behest of his daughter, who he said was distraught by officer-involved shootings from earlier in the week.
He directed most of his comments to youngsters gathered at the rally, imploring them to obey and respect law enforcement officials while keeping a keen eye on instances of racial injustice.
“Just don’t bury your head in the sand next time you see an injustice passed on to your brother,” Stanford said.
The rally remained calm for the most part. Some Lee’s Summit police officers were present but kept a distance from the gathering. Patrol cars blocked vehicle traffic from the street in front of City Hall.
One unidentified heckler briefly interrupted the rally, shouting: “This rally is what brings racism.”
A few demonstrators delivered a riposte, and others turned their back until police officers led the heckler away without incident.