Sunday, March 13, 2016

Beyond a video snippet: Why KCPD used pepper spray outside Saturday's Trump rally

I was supposed to go on vacation Friday and be gone all next week. But when I heard Donald Trump was having a campaign event in Kansas City, I thought it more important that I stay here. Given the unrest his rallies have sparked in other cities, I was concerned for the safety of those who would attend this event, both in support and protest. 

An estimated 500 people gathered in downtown Kansas City last night at the Donald Trump rally. Of those, a small number showed up intent on antagonizing and breaking the law. A video has been circulating showing police using pepper spray against those people. The video is a small moment in time and does not depict what led up to the incident. This is the full story:

Police were dealing with a bomb threat reported inside the Midland Theater as the rally started. At about the same time, I heard officers on the radio saying they were starting to get surrounded by the people outside. The Trump protesters were on both sides of Main Street. They started encroaching onto the street. The opposing sides periodically tried to come together, and officers found themselves breaking up more and more disturbances. The officers called in our Mounted Patrol for back up to break the two groups apart and get them out of the street. In the course of that, a police horse was assaulted. More officers were called in to help maintain safety and order. Some of the people gathered outside began to put on personal protective equipment (gas masks). Several of them tried to rush the front doors of the theater, blocking Main Street in the process. 

Police issued repeated commands to stay out of the street. They warned that pepper spray would be used if those gathered didn’t follow the commands. People had ample opportunity to back up or disperse. Police tried to get them out of the street for three minutes. Those three minutes were just when they were in the street itself. Tensions had been building before that on the sidewalk. They blocked traffic and compromised safety. Some cars caught in the back-up were surrounded. When the crowd refused to obey police commands, officers had to deploy pepper spray on two occasions throughout the evening.   

A total of four people were arrested. Given the circumstances, our officers exercised great restraint. And this morning, no windows are boarded up downtown. No one suffered any injuries beyond the temporary discomfort of pepper spray. The National Guard is not in Kansas City today to restore order.

People in the United States certainly have the right to peaceably assemble and express their views. And police were there to ensure that last night. Citizens do not, however, have the right to put others' safety at risk, destroy property or violate the law. The officers acted to facilitate an environment where law-abiding people could exercise their freedoms safely. And keep in mind that downtown was buzzing last night with people who had nothing to do with the Trump rally, and we had to ensure their safety, as well. There were tens of thousands of people gathered there for the Big 12 Men’s Basketball Tournament and the Mecum Auto Auction, among other events. If events had spiraled out of control, they could have been endangered, too. Our officers acted appropriately to keep a volatile situation under control, and they kept people and property safe. I’m proud of them.

A video that’s a few seconds long does not capture the mood or actions that had culminated over time. This video, or any video, of law enforcement having to use force to protect people will rarely be pretty.  The volatile situation and the harm some people’s actions could have caused were stopped by our officers. Police made wise decisions last night and took action as needed. Thank you to those who continually support our first responders and our community. (And I'll be starting my vacation tomorrow.)

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