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Nick’s Picks: Protests Aren’t Going Away

Demonstrations Moving to the Suburbs This Week

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Above image credit: "Kansas City Week in Review" host Nick Haines. (John McGrath | Flatland)

Get ready for more demonstrations this week against racism and police brutality spreading across the metro. This week, marches are planned in downtown Overland Park, Prairie Village and Lee’s Summit. Over the weekend, Johnson County saw its first demonstration in support of Black Lives Matter when around 150 protesters gathered outside of Shawnee City Hall to call for change following the killing of George Floyd.

Making Change

While the protests have shown remarkable staying power, will permanent change be harder to come by? This week, we will have a better answer to that question as the Kansas City Council begins debating a slew of measures designed to meet the demands of protesters. 

One change would shield demonstrators from criminal prosecution. The ordinance, being heard in a council committee Tuesday, would bar city prosecutors from bringing charges against protesters, unless they were believed to have damaged property or caused acts of violence.

The City Council also is expected to finalize funding this week to provide body cameras for police officers.  Community leaders have been calling for bodycams since 2013. For seven years, the police department has argued it doesn’t have the money, or they’re too concerned about data or how the video would be shared. Isn’t it remarkable how a few nights of street protests have so swiftly changed decision making? 

Demonstrations near the Country Club Plaza
Demonstrators and Kansas City police face off near the Country Club Plaza. (Cody Boston | Flatland)

Could this wave of civil unrest also reignite calls for local control of the Kansas City Police Department?  Kansas City is the only large city in America where its police force is controlled by a state-appointed board.

And there are whispers that there could be a new effort to rename the Paseo after slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  If it was on the ballot this November, would the outcome be different?

Plus, could this latest wave of unrest lead to a renaming of the J.C. Nichols fountain on the edge of the Country Club Plaza? Nichols was a renowned developer who also deployed restrictive covenants in property deeds that blocked people of color from moving into his developments.

Police Pressure

Can Kansas City’s chief of police save his job? Expect a renewed push by civil rights organizations to force Rick Smith out as the head of the police department. They’re unhappy with his handling of the protests and have expressed dissatisfaction with what they claim is excessive use of force by Kansas City officers.

Smith has said that he has no plans to resign. But changes are taking place.

The Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners has passed its own oversight measures, including a requirement that all police shootings be reviewed by an outside agency.

The police board is also examining the department’s use of tear gas, bean bag rounds and rubber bullets.

Missouri National Guard

More than 300 Missouri National Guard troops will return home later this week after being summoned to Washington by the president to maintain control in the nation’s capital. The decision to send troops came after a number of historic landmarks were vandalized, including the Lincoln Memorial and the World War II Memorial. Missouri Gov. Mike Parson says no state money was used in dispatching Missouri guardsman to Washington. He says the tab was picked up by the federal government.

Pandemic Reopenings

Science City and the Planetarium at Union Station reopen to visitors this Wednesday.  One of Johnson County’s biggest attractions is also reopening. The Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Gardens will reopen Wednesday to members only, with shortened hours.

New Library Director

This week, the Kansas City Public Library is under new leadership. The new man in charge is John Herron. He is the interim dean in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.  Herron succeeds Crosby Kemper III, who departed the library in January for a new job in Washington. Kemper had been nominated by President Trump to head a little known federal agency that helps fund our nation’s libraries and museums.  

Worlds of Fun

The parent company of Worlds of Fun is expected to announce this week when Kansas City’s largest theme park will reopen. And it could be as early as this weekend. 

What will riding a roller coaster look like in the world of social distancing? And what about those already long lines for popular rides? Could you be waiting out in the parking lot as employees try to keep visitors six feet apart?

Perhaps that might not be necessary, after all. 

A number of theme parks around the country are now adopting virtual lines, where you download the park’s app, click on the ride and you receive a time window to return to the attraction and walk straight on. 

It’s not certain whether Worlds of Fun will adopt that change, but as someone who easily withers in the heat, wouldn’t that be one heck of an improvement that comes out of this pandemic? 

Nick Haines tracks the week’s local news, Friday at 7:30 p.m. on KCPT’s primetime public affairs program, “Kansas City Week in Review.”

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