I am part of a group of activists in Wichita, Kansas that started protesting a series of local police shootings back in July of 2012, well before the issue became a national topic of discussion. Prior to the unrest in Ferguson and the attention that brought, there was virtually no public opposition to our peaceful protests and the news coverage we received was generally cast in a positive and fair light.
Skipping forward to today, with national news coverage of police shootings in cities like Ferguson, New York, Baltimore, and now Cleveland becoming a regular occurrence, most people have formed strong opinions when it comes to police violence and related protests.
Generally, those who hold negative opinions towards police accountability activism in Wichita are confusing our local issues with national stories they have seen on CNN and Fox News, and demonstrate a severe lack of knowledge when it comes to local police misconduct.
Despite numerous local news stories that aired prior to Ferguson, the community at large appears to have no clue that Wichita activists were protesting Wichita police shootings long before Obama or Eric Holder had anything to say about the topic. Many people living in Wichita do not seem to realize that these local protests have little to do with the facts of cases in Ferguson or Baltimore, and little to do with the actions of the few who choose to riot in those cities.
Aside from those directly affected, the people of Wichita have very little knowledge pertaining to the cases of local police shootings, or the laws and policies surrounding officer-involved-shootings in Wichita. In fact, many people do not even realize that Wichita has had an abnormally high number of police shootings over the past few years, because they were not paying attention prior to the high profile cases that made national news in other areas.
The fact of the matter is that the Wichita Police Department has a serious problem with officer misconduct, and specifically with how that misconduct is addressed, or, in most cases, not addressed, which is why we started protesting the department in the first place.
Racial profiling is rampant in Wichita. Officers are well-known for retaliating against those who file official complaints, and the top brass of the department has been covering up for the worst officers on the force for decades. Many of the police shootings that have occurred over the past several years have been completely unnecessary, yet no Wichita police officer has ever stood before a grand jury for a shooting.
In other cities, we see protests when a grand jury fails to indict an officer, or when an officer is acquitted in a jury trial. In Wichita, the officers never even make it to a courtroom. Shootings are investigated by the department, with the KBI rubber stamping the internal investigation. The case is turned over to the District Attorney, who has never once filed charges against an officer for a police shooting.
Furthermore, the Wichita Police Department is one of the only law enforcement agencies in the nation that refuses to identify officers who kill in the line of duty. Virtually every agency in the country identifies such officers within a day or two of a death. The Wichita Police Department has a firm policy of never identifying these officers, and the case of former officer Randy Williamson may shed light on why.
Randy Williamson shot and killed Troy Lanning II in April of 2012. Lanning was shot in the back, while unarmed and running away from a stolen car that had been pulled over. Williamson’s name was not released, and he was placed back on the streets within a week of the shooting.
A few months later, Williamson was involved in another shooting, where he falsely claimed that he saw someone pointing a gun at him, and opened fire on an unoccupied building. Williamson recanted this story and admitted to detectives that he fabricated the entire scenario.
The department was set to keep this story quiet and return Williamson to duty when Jared Cerullo, a KAKE News reporter, uncovered this story. It was only after Cerullo exposed Williamson as the shooter in this fabricated story, the Lanning death, and a third shooting, that the department placed Williamson on medical retirement.
Had Cerullo not aired this story, Williamson would have been returned to active duty after admitting to falsifying his report on the third shooting. Unidentified sources within law enforcement felt this was wrong and tipped Cerullo off. Cerullo was eventually fired by KAKE, under the guise of an on-air mistake that was immediately corrected.
Williamson eventually plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of filing a false report and was placed on probation. He has not been charged with any crime in relation to the shooting death of Troy Lanning II.
Last year, it was uncovered that over thirty officers working for the Wichita Police Department are on what is called the Brady-Giglio list, which means that those officers all have something on their records that brings their credibility into question. Recently retired Chief Norman Williams was one of those officers. The department refuses to identify which officers are on this list, or why the officers are on the list, leaving the public to speculate.
The stories of violence and misconduct by members of the Wichita Police Department are too numerous to list in one article, but the stories of officers actually being arrested for misconduct are virtually non-existent. The department never apologizes for the actions of its officers, and maintains the stance that misconduct simply does not occur.
People living in Wichita’s lower-income neighborhoods know these stories, and live under the oppression of the bad officers. People living in Wichita’s higher-income neighborhoods tend to believe that the police are doing a great job, because officers in their communities treat residents with dignity and respect. And that is the problem. If officers treated everyone with the respect that they treat suburban residents with, there would be no protests…