“It needs to change,” said Rachel Hudson, of the social justice group The Miller Dream. Hudson said police showed excessive force on peaceful protesters in July and should be held accountable.
Like several other speakers, Hudson asked that charges against four arrested protesters be dropped and that the police department release the names of the officers involved, who were not wearing name badges.
The comments were made during the council’s first open mic session allowing people to speak on items not included on the regular agenda.
In a continuation of a meeting one month ago, nine people demanded responses from the Police Department for arrests made during a July 24 protest and for the 2018 shooting death of teenager John Albers. Some attendees frustrated by the lack of a comment time, attempted to shout out their concerns during regular business at that previous meeting. However Monday, almost all comments were made at the microphones provided.
Speakers remained just as emphatic about the wrongs they say they suffered when police approached them in tactical gear as they walked on a residential street near Johnson County Community College. Their protest march that night was peaceful, they said, yet they were met with officers who did not wear name identification and who responded with more force than was necessary.
“It is absolutely ludicrous to me to act as if obstructing ingress or egress – aka standing in the street – is an arrestable reaction,” said Mandy Stark Culbertson of Overland Park. The police response exacerbates real grievances the protesters were bringing, she said. “Acting in this manner is absolutely making the problem worse. It’s proving the point.”
Police response to the July 24 protest has continued to draw questions and criticism through the summer. The march closely followed the route of an earlier walk through the same neighborhood that happened without incident. But on July 24, marchers were met by neighbors in the residential area, and there were words and a scuffle with police.
Four people were arrested that night, including one man who was charged with battery against a law enforcement officer.
The American Civil Liberties Union has requested a meeting with police and city officials to discuss why the police reacted differently at the July 24 protest than they did in the earlier one.
Kyharra Williams, of Kansas City, Mo., one of those arrested on July 24, was among the speakers at the council meeting Monday. She said she was not allowed to speak to a lawyer or receive a phone call after her arrest, and she said she feels watched and unable to visit friends living in Johnson County because of her skin tone.
“Do better. It’s really that simple,” Williams said.
Williams and Hudson also noted that while commenters were given three minutes each to speak, the council spent roughly 50 minutes later in the meeting discussing the removal of traffic signals along 91st Street.
“It’s disheartening, it’s sad, but unfortunately not surprising,” Williams said later. “It is unacceptable, though.”
She said she would have liked to have had racial injustice and the police response as an agenda item as a first step. Otherwise, she said, it creates the impression the city doesn’t value the marchers’ concerns. “Telling you about my life in danger is worth exactly three minutes while a random traffic stop corner is apparently worth twelve times that much,” she said.
Sheila Albers also asked for information about the police department’s internal investigation of complaints, including how many have been made and how many were sustained. Albers has also been seeking answers about a $70,000 severance payment to the officer who fatally shot her teenage son in 2018. Police went to the Albers house that night to check on John’s welfare, but ended up shooting into his car as he pulled out of the driveway.
The Rev. Dr. Brandon Frick, of the Village Presbyterian Church on Antioch, said, “it’s time someone gave Miss Albers some real answers about what happened.”
There was no immediate response from the dais, though city code encourages city councilmembers to “not engage in discussion or debate” with members of the public offering comment at meetings.
Overland Park Police Chief Frank Donchez did respond via email to some of the concerns raised Monday about how the arrested protesters were treated on July 24.
“If the police are not asking an individual incriminating questions, the 5th amendment right to an attorney does not attach,” Donchez said. “The individuals that night were processed for booking and released on a personal recognizance bond. Individuals are normally allowed to make phone calls at the end of the booking process, but instead, the three defendants [who were arrested for walking in the street and not on the sidewalk] were released from police custody with their personal property returned to them.”
Meanwhile, city councilmember Paul Lyons and The Miller Dream leader Patrick Wotruba have exchanged emails in recent weeks about possibly meeting to discuss protesters’ concerns, but so far, no meeting has been scheduled, though Lyons says he remains open to talking with the group over its demands.
This post has been updated to better explain the procedure for councilmembers’ response to public commenters during council meetings and to also more fully explain ongoing discussions between Lyons and Wotruba for potentially meeting in the future. It has also been updated to include comment from Chief Donchez.