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A protester walks among police in riot gear Wednesday, June 3, 2020, in Kansas City, Mo., after a unity march to protest against police brutality following the death of George Floyd, who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on May 25. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Black leaders in Kansas City seek police chief’s resignation

Civil rights organizations on Wednesday called for the resignation of Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith, hours after a group of pastors demanded changes to improve relations between police and the city’s minority community.

The Urban League of Greater Kansas City, the NAACP’s Kansas City, Missouri branch, and More2 said in a statement that Smith should resign because of his handling of previous excessive force complaints and officer-involved shootings of black men.

Smith said he had no plans to resign. After mingling with a crowd of protesters chanting “Black lives must survive,” he announced that the department had “been listening” and had obtained funding for body cameras. The crowd erupted into applause. The DeBruce Foundation donated $1 million, with another $1.5 million coming from other business and philanthropic groups.

“I know everybody is tired of waiting for justice,” Mayor Quinton Lucas said. “What we are going to do today is take one first step into the process of rebuilding connections, rebuilding trust and making sure you know that this city works for you. What I want to make sure that you know we know is that black lives matter.”

Body cameras were among the demands from the group calling for Smith’s resignation. They also criticized the city’s Board of Police Commissioners for allowing the chief to conduct internal investigations of officer-involved shootings and complaints of excessive force rather than calling in independent investigators.

A group of mostly black religious leaders made similar demands earlier Wednesday, but without calling for Smith’s resignation.

Emanual Cleaver III, pastor at St. James United Methodist Church, said the pastors believed it was necessary to seek change because: “What happened to George Floyd was nothing new.” He said pastors “will take action” if the city doesn’t respond, though he declined to elaborate.

Among the protesters in the crowd, was 20-year-old Joileeah Worley, who is spending the summer at home in Kansas City after studying at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in Los Angeles.

“Something needs to change,” she said. “And if it’s not a change in policy, it needs to be a change in perspective and the only way we can get a change in perspective is if we have someone new in power.”

Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said her office was reviewing video of Kansas City police officers who pepper-sprayed two protesters and arrested one who was yelling at police during protests Monday night.

Lucas said Tuesday that he reviewed videos that had been sent to him from people concerned about police actions, and asked the FBI and federal prosecutors to review any that might violate procedures or show misconduct.

Kansas City has endured five days of protests over Floyd’s May 25 death in Minneapolis. Peaceful daytime demonstrations devolved into violence. Police used tear gas on protesters for the first four nights before relative calm returned Tuesday night.

In St. Louis, the police officers’ union this week said it had lost faith in Police Chief John Hayden’s response to violent demonstrators and asked Gov. Mike Parson to send the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the National Guard to help, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Mayor Lyda Krewson said Hayden had her full support. Sgt. Heather Taylor, president of the Ethical Society of Police, which represents mostly black officers, said Hayden is doing a fair job and that the union is targeting him because he’s firing union members “at an alarming rate for misconduct,” and because the chief is black. Jeff Roorda, business manager of the union calling for reinforcements, said the criticism is based on the chief’s performance.

Parson said Wednesday that the state doesn’t need federal troops “at this point” to help quell the demonstrations.

President Donald Trump on Monday threatened to send federal military troops to U.S. cities to quell the violence that erupted after Floyd, a handcuffed black man died, after a white police officer pressed a knee into his neck until he stopped moving.

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page on Wednesday accused Trump of “fanning the flames” of violence and treating the demonstrations as if they “were a reality show.”

Although protests Tuesday night in St. Louis County were calm, Page’s comments came after four St. Louis police officers were shot and a retired St. Louis police captain was killed during violence overnight Monday. Police said more than 70 businesses in the city were ransacked, including a pawn shop where retired St. Louis police Capt. David Dorn was fatally shot during a break-in.

The U.S. Attorney in St. Louis on Wednesday charged a man who lived in a complex adjacent to where the four officers were shot with felony weapons charges. The complaint does not directly link Christopher Thomas Gaston, 40, of St. Louis, to the shootings.

The criminal complaint says witnesses reported seeing Gaston with weapons the evening of the shootings and surveillance video showed Gaston carrying a long rifle partially concealed under a blanket. Officers found two firearms and ammunition in his apartment.

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