Improving the Relationship Between Communities
of Color and Law Enforcement
For at least the past three years, since the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, the relationship between law enforcement and communities of color in the U.S. has been at the forefront of a heated national conversation, one that is literally a matter of life and death.
Events reached a crescendo last July when Alton Sterling died at the hands of police officers in Baton Rouge on a Tuesday. On Wednesday, police officers killed another black man, Philandro Castile, in St. Paul, Minnesota. The next day, five Dallas police officers died in an ambush initiated by a veteran angry over the police shootings of black men. It ranked among the deadliest days in law enforcement history.
The reverberations from those events were felt all the way in Kansas. In this edition of The Journal, our correspondents tell the stories of Kansans who have attempted to exercise leadership on this issue.
- The edition revisits the efforts of a Wichita police chief to keep his community’s heat in the productive zone. It also reflects with community organizers who took the risk of accepting the chief’s offer to conduct a community cookout with law enforcement rather than protest.
- Two University of Kansas professors detail their research that presents a tough interpretation about the negative impacts that a specific kind of police stop has on minorities.
- Another story examines the challenges that the mayor of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas has faced in trying to foster a community conversation on policing in the wake of two officer deaths.
- In Garden City, a place where community policing has been successful in establishing trust with a diverse mix of immigrant communities, officers and residents grapple with the implications of immigration becoming a polarizing issue.
- A ride along with Shawnee County Sheriff Herman Jones captures some of the challenges that officers face in the daily course of trying to do their jobs.
- In two illustrations based on narratives collected during the research of Wichita State University’s Michael Birzer, graphic artist Erin DeGroot captures the differing experiences that minorities and police have with the issue of racial profiling.
- Caleb Stephens and Black Lives Matter LFK have worked to raise the heat in Lawrence, influencing their community’s dialogue and sparking criticism of their tactics.
- As he learns how to drive, Christian Williams, age 14, also discusses race and policing with his father, Van.
More than a year ago, the Kansas Leadership Center Board of Directors decided to begin investing the organization’s resources into elevating the dialogue around the relationship between law enforcement and communities of color in Kansas. The edition represents The Journal’s contribution to that effort by providing readers with a variety of different perspectives and viewpoints from which try to understand the issue better.
Readers will learn from community organizers, police, academics, immigrants, and local officials. One won’t find an easy solution or a scapegoat, only an effort to understand the roots of the problem and what might be done about it from a variety of angles. It is by no means a perfect encapsulation of all the issues and viewpoints at play and The Journal welcomes your feedback on where we have done well, where we have missed the boat and what we will need to do in the future to better tackle tough issues.
The Kansas Leadership Center asks alumni across the state to play a role themselves by leading local dialogue on this topic in their own communities. As David Lindstrom, KLC Board Chair, explains in his introductory column, the hope is these talks could lead to “hundreds of thousands of Kansans taking action to make more progress.”
The hope is that this edition of The Journal provides useful information that will inspire healthier discussion and more effective leadership across the state on this difficult but important civic challenge in Kansas.