Rough Times in Kansas City
Councilman Jermaine Reed is not going to like this: Police in Kansas City, Missouri are picking on black people. Again.
This time the targets are "unruly teenagers" from a 95 percent black high school called DeLaSalle. Last Thursday, a bus driver removed five DeLaSalle students from the bus for violence and mayhem.
The Fox affiliate in Kansas City picks up the story about how, soon after, large-scale black mob violence erupted --- everything except the black part:
A wild fight broke out, and police needed pepper spray to quell the situation.
Les Brown said he was nearby when the big brawl broke out, working in the store at St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store.
"The whole block -- the intersection of 39th down past the bus stop -- was nothing but kids and police cars," Brown said.
Brown said it seemed as if people were fighting everywhere he looked, including teenagers who were grappling with police officers. Brown says he went back inside the store, and locked the door to protect customers.
"There were a lot of kids walking down the streets and the police officers told them to go home," Brown said, "They wouldn't go."
And five of them were arrested -- three females and two males. KCPD spokespeople say that includes two 17-year-olds -- James Olser and Nakidra Hawkins. Both are charged with trespassing -- and Hawkins is charged with hitting a police officer.
Everyone arrested was black. Everyone kicked off the bus was black. And everyone fighting in the streets of this black neighborhood was black.
That did not make the local media accounts.
This example of mob violence is similar to what a Kansas City TV station calls a "perennial problem" at the upscale shopping district called The Country Club Plaza: For at least four years, large groups of black people have been fighting and destroying property and causing mayhem on a regular basis.
In 2011 newly elected mayor Sly James said he was going to get the problem under control in six months. A few weeks later, his security guards had to push him into the bushes when he was visiting the Plaza and gunfire broke out 50 yards away. Three people were shot.
Soon after, the Kansas City city council created a curfew. It helped some, but not much. The black mob violence continued. Some of it on video.
Earlier this year, Councilman Reed made a discovery: Of the 34 people cited for violating the curfew at The Plaza, all were black.
Reed did not like that. Reed was the youngest person ever elected to the city council when the then-26 year old took his seat in 2011. But he had plenty of training: During college, he completed the Congressional Black Caucus Institute's "Political Education and Leadership Boot Camp." Later, he worked in the resource development office of the Black Caucus and also for the City of Washington, D.C. as a financial analyst.
Councilman Reed was only saying what many people were thinking: There is a big problem centered around black people at The Country Club Plaza.
Some residents says black mob violence is out of control, and has been for a while. Reed says black people are the victims of police prejudice, not the perpetrators of mob violence.
"The data is the data. That's what I'm looking at," Reed said. "We've got to be honest and have an honest conversation. Say, 'Here's what it says and have an honest conversation, as well."
Reed declined to have a conversation of any kind for this article.
Local talk show host Greg Knapp of KCMO radio said Councilman Reed "tried to imply the police were racially enforcing the curfew."
Another councilman said black people do not feel welcome at the Plaza, and that is the reason for the violence.
Reed's racially-charged comments attracted the full -- and surprised -- attention of at least one TV news station.
"The fact that a lot of the teens that congregate here on the Plaza just to hang out are black teenagers has largely been an implied or unmentioned fact," said Micheal Mahoney, a local TV reporter with Channel 9 news. "The big deal on this is the issue of black teenagers down here on the plaza and a year-round curfew is something that has been hinted at. Implied. Whispered about."
One place that did document the racial violence at Country Club Plaza was the book White Girl Bleed a Lot: The Return of Racial Violence to America and How the Media Ignore it.
No one is really sure when large groups of black people started showing up Country Club Plaza. But by 2010, the crowds were so big and so violent they were getting increasingly difficult for newspapers and public officials to ignore.
The Business Journal was among the first to bell the cat, maybe because one of its reporters saw the violence firsthand. Steve Vockrodt described one night as an "ugly scene" of 1000 "youngsters" that was "nothing less than a riot."
There were assaults, robberies, vandalism, and broken jaws. Nearby businesses closed early, and there was a lot of general mayhem. Shoppers were afraid. When police tried to step in, they were greeted with profanities and disrespect by the juveniles "every time there was an interaction."
Vockrodt said he was surrounded by fifteen people who tried to steal his bike.
Back in 2010, then-mayor Mark Funkhouser said the mobs were nothing new, and it happened every spring. Funkhouser announced he was darn well going to stop it.
But by August 2011, Kansas City had a new mayor with the same old problems of black mobs at the plaza. Two years later they are still waiting. And no one is pretending the problem is isolated any more.
By 2013, local television stations showed groups of black people at the plaza fighting, running from police, and creating mayhem. "The scenes of teens running and ending up in handcuffs are all too familiar now at the crown jewel of Kansas City, the Plaza" said the Fox affiliate in Kansas City. "Just last week another similar incident."
Many of the attacks happened in February, prior to the summertime curfew, said the Fox News affiliate in Kansas City.
A homeless man told police he was beat by a group of fifteen kids thought to be younger than sixteen years old. The men and women on the streets say it is a common occurrence.
"It's just unfortunate. I mean I've heard stories about people sleeping under the bridges and people come by and hit 'em with bricks and stuff like that," said Mike Higgins, a Kansas City homeless man. Another man who calls the streets home, Arthur Scott, told us he was attacked last year after three young teens who asked to use his phone.
By 2013, two years after Mayor Sly James said he would take care of the problem by the next weekend, it is clear the problem never really went away. "Fights everywhere," is how one black woman described one episode of black mob violence at the Plaza. She was also upset that police chased her and 999 of her closest friends after they told them to leave the plaza, and they refused.
More police and tighter curfews have not curbed the violence, said the TV stations.
Now police are sending out "community liaisons" to meet with the black people on the plaza and find out what they need. "The answer is complicated," said the reporter.
One of the black people said Kansas City should open up a place where teens can party. Others said the curfew and more police were not effective because "teens say they hate being targeted and teens never like being told what to do," the TV station said.
In September, it happened again: Mounted police and members of the SWAT team used pepper spray to subdue and disperse the crowd.
Tweeting from the scene, local NBC reporter Garrett Haake said, "Police and teens tell me after a movie got out, a large group came here to avoid the curfew and a fight broke out. Police arrived and sprayed."
At one public meeting the mayor said it was time for a dialogue, but most of the newspapers and electronic media don't permit comments on the topic of racial violence. However, KMBC does. Donovan Tozier commented on that web site:
"Well I work by the plaza and I can tell you I have never seen a group of white kids running around causing problems, I have not seen a group of Hispanic kids running around causing problems.
That goes for Chinese, Korean, or every other race out there. You want to make it a race thing so I am going to call it like I see it.
This issue revolves completely around our young black youth. Getting in large groups and running the sidewalks jumping around acting immature is not what the plaza needs or wants as real shoppers are trying to enjoy a night out.
I don't blame anyone for avoiding the Plaza when this happens, it is not a safe environment when hundreds of out of control children are running around."
Another Plaza visitor commented:
I had to cross the Plaza last summer going home from babysitting, and while sitting at a stoplight I was shouted at, called names, and had my car beaten on by these hooligans.
They were ALL black. These are the type of situations that worsen the already tense race relations in this city. The problems on the Plaza are with BLACK teenagers.
Call it what you will -- since there are no white teens causing the problems. This is a problem for anyone who enjoys the Plaza -- so we all get to suffer because of the lack of parenting of these black delinquents.
Emanuel Cleaver used to be the mayor of Kansas City. Today he is a member of Congress. He does not question who is responsible for the violence at the plaza. He just wonders if the people who support the curfew have really thought it through: "All we are going to do is make a lot of black kids angry and they are going to take out their anger somewhere else."
If the violence near DeLaSalle Charter High School is any indication, Congressman Cleaver's prediction is coming true.
Colin Flaherty is author of White Girl Bleed a Lot.