Test of success: Will march, cookout lead to real change?

Police chief calls protest a success

Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay explains why he was pleased with how Tuesday's "Black Lives Matter" protest went. Video by Stan Finger
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Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay explains why he was pleased with how Tuesday's "Black Lives Matter" protest went. Video by Stan Finger

Djuan Wash, A.J. Bohannon and many other black leaders said the measure of the success of the march and cookout will ultimately be determined by whether it leads to real change.

Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay’s discussions with the community have put the focus on three main next steps that the black community had been pushing for. They are:

▪ An independent investigator for police shootings, which Ramsay supports, as does Hans Asmussen, a representative for Wichita’s police union. Although Asmussen thinks Sedgwick County has been doing a good job, he said the union will support any investigation as long as it’s objective.

▪ More cultural competency training for officers. Again Ramsay and the union said they are in favor of more training, although Ramsay said at the barbecue that the department’s training budget is underfunded.

▪ A citizens review board of shootings by police officers. While Ramsay supports this, Asmussen is taking a wait-and-see approach. He said it’s unclear how this board would differ from the current review board led by the city manager.

The real test will come when the Wichita Police Department starts publicly disciplining its officers, said Brandon Johnson, a friend of Bohannon’s and Wash’s who works for Sunflower Community Action during the day and runs a community development nonprofit in his free time.

“Until they see some actual discipline happening, (the black community) doesn’t believe anything is going to change,” Johnson said. “They don’t trust the department.”

Although few officers have been convicted in a criminal court, there has been an increase in million-dollar settlements recently across the U.S., according to James Thompson, who has spearheaded many of the lawsuits in Wichita on behalf of the families of police shooting victims.

Thompson said body cameras are making it easier to take police departments to trial for wrongful shootings, and to turn down cases that he might have previously taken, when it’s clear the officer’s actions were reasonable.

After seeing Ramsay’s approach at the cookout, Thompson has hope for the first time in a decade.

“Under the old administration the mentality was to circle the wagons regardless of how bad the shooting was,” he said. “Defend the officer and assassinate the character of the person shot.”

But the feeling among a lot of officers, according to Asmussen, is that a small, vocal part of Wichita’s community is rushing to judgment. Just as he said officers welcome cultural competency training, he wants more community members to come to the citizens police academy.

“The belief by some is it’s driven by a social media society trying to make judgments before facts are known,” Asmussen said. “It’s because we’ve become an immediate right-here-and-now culture instead of letting the truth come out and then form opinions.”

Oliver Morrison: 316-268-6499, @ORMorrison