Images of George Floyd in his final moments moved Kansas City, our nation and our world in ways we are just beginning to comprehend.
Looking back on the protests at Mill Creek Park in the days following Floyd’s murder, KCUR and 41 Action News captured frustration, desperation, heartache and hope. People from every corner of our community experienced the 2020 protests from a unique vantage point.
This project is an emotional look at a flash point through all the prisms that bring us our greatest challenges and present our most significant opportunities to grow and heal.
Meet the protestors who rose up to call out a biased and often inequitable system; the officers charged with protecting and serving; the faith leaders who sought to be guided through their moral compasses; and the activists trying to push public policy.
Meet the business owners challenging themselves and their comfort zones; a child who was pepper sprayed on the front lines; the father fighting for dignity; the small town teen who decided to demonstrate and lead a demonstration for the first time; and journalists pushed professionally and personally to capture this moment for today and for the future.
These are the perspectives of a national tragedy felt in a very local way — an examination of the steps to respond and our collective hopes for what Kansas City can become in the years ahead.
Meet the people
Manny Abarca, activist and organizer: “We share the same issues. We live in the same neighborhoods. We grow together and the reality that if this could happen to George Floyd, it can happen to any one of us… There was joy in that we were finally together to protest toward change, so it was beautiful.”
Steven Beldin, concerned citizen: “Some of the violence that developed, we weren’t down with, but certainly wanted to keep up with what was going on… I’d hope that we all at some point could feel like we’re working in a common direction.”
Chris Bizzle, protester: “It’s about time. It’s about time that Black lives do matter… That the fight is not over. We still got to keep up the fight. We still got to keep going.”
Bukeka Blakemore, protester: “I think what’s happened is that there is awareness. I think that what’s happened is there is a greater intolerance for it… If you’re on the sidelines, then just stay on the sidelines. Don’t impede the process.”
Keith Bradley, owner of Made in KC: “As many great things as we have about our city, when it comes to racial inequality, that is one of the biggest areas of growth we have in our city to overcome… Property can be replaced. Things can be replaced, but people when they’re gone, that’s a whole ‘nother story.”
Justin Cartwright, teacher at Coffeyville High School: “Your voice matters no matter where you’re from… The power comes from people of different backgrounds with the same goal. That’s where the real power comes from… Is there a stigma and an attitude against people of color? Absolutely. That’s what we’re drawing attention to.”
Amy Crouse, concerned citizen: “I was privileged to be able to look away and that is absolutely not lost on me whatsoever… Unbelievable to me. Absolutely unbelievable — murder right out in the open.”
Randy Fikki, pastor at Unity Southeast Kansas City: “This is not a riot, this is a rebellion and it needs to happen… I can pray all day long but unless I respond to the answers that I get in prayer, nothing will change.”
Adam Hamilton, pastor at Church of the Resurrection: “You couldn’t look at that and not say there’s something terribly wrong with this… Black lives matter and we have to say it because it’s not clear in our country’s history, it’s not clear in our world today, that we actually believe that.”
Kevin Holmes, 41 Action News Anchor: “It’s very hurtful as a Black man. It’s very hurtful as a journalist. These stories don’t get easy to tell… It forced us to look in the mirror as journalists to see how we’re dealing with that word empathy, and there have been many times where we haven’t.”
Chrysalyn Huff, owner of RE Store: “For the first time maybe, white people felt that breaking in a way we had never felt before. I don’t think that’s a bad thing… I don’t feel like I can be a good leader if I am not changing something in my core.”
Jeffrey Hughley, Kansas City Police Department Captain: “It’s kind of what we’re all taught as a child very young: What’s right is right, what’s wrong is wrong, and whatever side that you’re on, or the profession, doesn’t excuse that… We hear you. We are definitely here for you. You have more allies than you think you have.”
Ron Lindsey, pastor at Concord Fortress of Hope Church: “It is this yearning for the greater good of community… We serve a God who’s going to show up in it in some kind of way.”
Joel Lovelady, Kansas City Police Department Captain: “I hear people who are frustrated. I hear people who want to have a voice… I can be empathetic. I can seek to understand it. I can listen.”
Quinton Lucas, Kansas City Mayor: “I learned how [much] community pain there was. Frankly, I even understood and thought about some of mine… It feels incomplete. I think because we haven’t been willing yet, broadly enough, to have that conversation about what fundamentally needs to change… Often it has been criminalized just to be Black and existing in America.”
Na’Tya Maddox, protester: “How can somebody be that cruel to sit on someone’s neck when they’re saying that they can’t breathe?… It was kind of uncomfortable. I didn’t feel safe.”
Tarence Maddox, protester: “They sprayed her at point-blank range and then they sprayed me and just kind of pulled me out into the street with full force… I’ve forgiven them already but at the end of the day, they have to use better judgment when dealing with civilians.”
Chase McAnulty, owner of Charlie Hustle: “The hardest thing I learned is probably what white privilege is… If we can have any kind of part in making this a better place to live, we’ve got to do it.”
Tamera McCullough, protest organizer: “After seeing so many videos and stuff about it, it just made me really angry and I just wanted to speak up and have my voice heard… Honestly, it made us want to do it more. We just want to push harder and show everybody that we can do it peacefully and get our voices heard.”
Paula Nepote, protester: “It kept going. It was like it wasn’t just a moment — it was a movement… Be brave and be open to the idea of doing things differently and stand up for what you feel is right.”
Stacy Shaw, attorney and activist: “If people want a certain type of response, then they need to start listening to the people that are protesting… No matter how much you get the community involved, it’s not a community problem. It’s a police problem. The police need to fix themselves.”
Judy Shiffrin, concerned citizen: “The very least I can certainly put the word out that I am a supporter of Black Lives Matter… We do need to focus on Black lives. We can’t just lump everything in as if there’s been no inherent racism in this country forever.”
Dia Wall, 41 Action News Anchor: “When George Floyd called for his mama, every mother knows what that sounds like and knows that that takes you straight to your heart, because as a mother you want to protect and I think for me, that has never left me… It’s real easy to watch the stories on the evening news, turn it off and go back to doing what you were doing, but we’ve got to get off the sidelines. It’s time for everyone to get a little bit uncomfortable.”
History of the Kansas City protests
Kansas City protests started Friday, May 29. Hundreds of people gathered for a peaceful protest, but Kansas City, Missouri, police did call additional officers to the scene shortly after 5:30 p.m. as protesters began to block traffic in the area.
Things shifted Saturday, May 30. KCPD arrested more than 50 people protesting the death of George Floyd on the Country Club Plaza.
According to police, at least 10 people were injured, and a car was set on fire. Several businesses were also vandalized, most with broken windows. Jackson County deputies were called in to assist, and Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas pleaded for calm.
Missouri Governor Mike Parson issued an executive order declaring a State of Emergency and highway patrol troopers arrived in Kansas City.
41 Action News shared some images gathered in the early days of the protest.
By June 2, KCPD had what it called “the best night so far.” Officers adjusted tactics and gave the protestors more room. Things remained largely peaceful.
There were roughly 15 to 20 arrests, and protestors marched freely along Main Street.
A Unity March took place on June 3. After a weekend of more than 150 arrests, local clergy and pastors came out to pray for the officers and take part in a march from the Nelson-Atkins Museum to Mill Creek Park.
Very few arrests were made, but some protesters still said they did not want unity with the police until changes are made.
KCPD Chief Rick Smith announced the department secured funding for police body cameras, one of the demands local protesters made to the department.
One month after George Floyd’s death, 41 Action News aired a special report highlighting the parallels between the 1968 race riots and the 2020 demonstrations.
What’s happened since
KCPD secured funding for body-worn cameras, an idea that originated in 2015 and was tested to some extent in 2016. Funding had always been a barrier for wider use of the cameras before the protests.
In August 2020, Tarence Maddox filed a lawsuit against KCPD for pepper spraying his teenage daughter in the face at the May 30 protest. He was also sprayed in a video that quickly went viral, racking up millions of views.
In October 2020, Theresa Taylor filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, Western Missouri Division, alleging that a verbal order made by police to arrested protesters to avoid future protests was never rescinded, and has violated her rights moving forward.
KCPD has since enacted some policy changes. The Missouri State Highway Patrol will now investigate all KCPD officer-involved shootings to avoid a conflict of interest.
Additionally, KCPD now has explicit language banning chokeholds, even though there’s never been training for that technique.
By February 2021, the department had drafted a proposal to nix using “less lethal” weapons for crowd control.
In March 2021, a Jackson County grand jury returned the indictment of Nicholas M. McQuillen for one count of misdemeanor assault for spraying Na’Tya Maddox in the face with pepper spray.
In April 2021, KCPD unveiled a new protest policy in response to calls for police reform. It came one day after a jury found former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of three charges in the murder of George Floyd.
What happens next?
Protests in the Kansas City area continued for weeks.
Thousands of people came to the metro to cry out, with broken hearts — but also with hope the community can rise from this.
Now, as we reflect on the last year, what do you see? Are you listening?
This story is part of 9:29 — The Minutes That Moved Kansas City, a KCUR 89.3 and 41 Action News collaboration about the legacy of George Floyd.