The Kansas City Star, in its legal battle to see all records of police complaints from the last three years, has pried loose 50 randomly selected complaint files from the Kansas City police department.
As the files document, all but a small fraction of complaints were dismissed because of insufficient evidence—that is, the citizen's word against the officer's. But the citizens' words reveal a dizzying kaleidoscope of mistrust, anger, fear, and memories of harassment and racism. What's more, the Star's analysis points to the abysmal futility of lodging complaints against KC police officers.
There's so much local teaspoon work to do here that it's hard to know where to start. But perhaps we start small, by correcting the zanily oblivious notions of the Office of Community Complaints.
[Trigger warning on the stories in the following link.]
For instance, consider the story of Gloria Ellington, who relates that an officer first handcuffed her, then felt her up during a routine traffic stop, then threatened her with jail for "asking too many questions."
Her file concludes that there was no evidence to support Ellington, so the Office suggested she take her complaints about the tickets to Municipal Court. Because surely that's what would be upsetting her: the traffic ticket.
Or perhaps we start by asking the Office to explain why exactly it is, again, that officers need to be extra-super-careful about not being jackasses to African-American males:
"I became very upset, realizing that the only reason I could see for being detained is that I am a black male," the man wrote in his complaint.Where do I start? I'll praise transparency and those fighting for it. When a complaint is warranted, by God, I have to file it. If I witness something warranting a complaint, I have to step up and offer to file a record of what I saw and heard. And I'll add my voice to those calling for release of the full complaints archive.
An officer later told him that he was in a "zero tolerance" area that allowed officers to stop anyone for any reason. There had been a rash of burglaries and one suspect was a black man. The officer said the man became belligerent and loud during the stop. One officer admitted telling the citizen "to be a man."
The Office of Community Complaints did not uphold the complaint, saying there was "insufficient evidence" to make a ruling. But it added a cautionary note that it would be best not to tell African-American males "to be a man."
I understand that the PD doesn't want to deal with inflamed racial tensions or mistrust between police and public at the release of these files. And yes, the files will raise subtle and complex questions as well as boiling rage. I don't care. We ought to be allowed to deal with it; I'd rather we were temporarily crushed by the truth than permanently sedated by the lie.