Panel of Black men agrees racism is prevalent in Johnson County

Black men's experiences living in Johnson County was the focus of a panel discussion hosted Tuesday in Overland Park by the Advocacy and Awareness Group of Johnson County. The panel featured a group of Black men cast in the group's DocuSeries "I Am George Floyd."

Black men who spoke at a panel discussion Tuesday night in Overland Park unanimously agreed there is 100% a problem with racism in Johnson County.

Hosted by the Advocacy and Awareness Group of Johnson County and co-organized with efforts from Overland Park city councilmembers Holly Grummert and Paul Lyons, and Breakpointe Church, the panel discussion featured the cast from the group’s DocuSeries “I Am George Floyd” and Overland Park Police Capt. Ray Tisinger.

“We’re here because we’re seeing a trend of unarmed Black men being killed by our local police in our country, and we thought it was important to hold a discussion for the Black men in our community, in case they have important things to share with us,” said Linnaia McKenzie, president of the Advocacy and Awareness Group of Johnson County. “It’s time for us to open our ears and listen, it’s time for us to open our hearts and consider new opinions about how this country is dealing with discussions based on racial inequality and social injustice. It is time for change.”

Panelists included:

  • Wilson Thomas, owner of BarNone Training, a fitness gym
  • Sam Tady, local videographer and filmmaker
  • Haile Sims, employee and educator at FedEx Ground
  • Ron Lackey, worship leader at Legacy Christian Church
  • Patrick Grant, an SM South teacher for seven years
  • Overland Park Police Capt. Ray Tisinger, who has served in law enforcement for 32 years

‘Let’s fix it for good’

Many have had hard conversations within households about how to safely interact with police officers, including in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Those conversations are meant to remind family members, particularly Black sons, to be careful around police so they can come home safely, they said.

Haile Sims said he’s having the same conversations with his children about police that his parents had with him. “Let’s fix it for good,” he said.

“I am ultimately having the same discussions with my children that my parents had with me,” Sims said, reflecting on a memory 30 years ago, when a mostly white jury acquitted the police officers who were caught on video beating Rodney King. “And if you really think about it, they are the same discussions that my parents had with their parents. We’re having this nationwide discussion; it’s 2020, let’s fix it… and be done with it so I don’t have to have the discussion with my grandchildren. Let’s fix it for good.”

While those conversations started much earlier than George Floyd — before the days of cellphone video capturing interactions with police — panelists remained optimistic that positive changes will come. But there is still work to do.

“As you start to say, do we have a problem, the question really is, do we have a solution?” Wilson said. “Because if you don’t have a solution, you don’t know what direction to look toward. If we don’t know where we’re going, how can we ever get there?”

Overland Park Police Capt. Ray Tisinger said his fellow officers encourage each other to build community and serve with integrity.

Some panelists said they wanted to ensure bad police officers, in Johnson County and across the country, are held accountable. Tisinger said that within the police department, they encourage each other to stay the course, build trust within the community and police the streets with integrity.

“If you don’t have the trust of your community, you’ve lost your community,” Tisinger said, noting later he hopes conversations, which should start in the home, will break down barriers of fear and anger.

Collectively, the panelists urged those listening to break the culture of silence, vote, do the work that needs to be done, and celebrate the humanity and inherent worth of Black people, including their talents, skills and voices.

“That fear has kept us apart; we’re not even allowed to talk about some of these things because we’re afraid of offending each other,” Lackey said. “I don’t imagine white people are offended by being white, so just know that Black people, we’re happy to be Black.”

The panel discussion is in conjunction with the group’s DocuSeries, which is currently running. Interviews from the DocuSeries are available to view on the advocacy group’s YouTube channel.

Here is the video livestream of the panel discussion.