What challenges do you face working in a weak town hall system?
Police in particular is an area where you frankly need a strong position and the ability – if the electorate votes for you – to say, “We’re going to change. So, you know, a lot of my naysayers on the right like to say, ‘Look, this is terrible because his goal was to get us below 100 homicides a year. It was true and it did not happen. In fact, the exact opposite has happened. We have seen increases.
But for me, nothing is more frustrating than when I talk to the people of Kansas City and they say, “We want you to try new efforts. We want you to try violence prevention. We want you to try to raise awareness and find ways to break up gangs. And we just sit down and say, “Oh, there’s nothing we can do. And you know you basically have a police commissioner who is not accountable to anyone, that you have a board of commissioners who only answer to the governor of Missouri, who is, I think, not politically aligned. public safety concerns with the people of Kansas City. This is a real problem.
As a black mayor in this age of racial calculus, can you talk about how it affected you and maybe how it made it easier or not to deal with the crisis?
To be 100% honest, when I heard about George Floyd’s murder, I didn’t want to watch the video. I have been black all my life. I remember being a kid and wondering why the LA cops were acquitted [after the Rodney King trial]. I’ve seen too many videos of black men getting beaten up or dying onscreen. And so initially I was kind of like, “You know what, I’m not even going to [watch it]. “I didn’t make a statement. I didn’t do anything. But the protests still came, because I think there was a real calculation in my own town about justice, social justice, criminal justice system.
As far as what I did then, I mean, you are not only seen as a mayor, are you, but you are seen as someone who defends or sells your people. Conversations were tough, including with the chief of police, who is white. I would say, “You know, these aren’t hooligans. There are a lot of people who feel like they’ve never been heard.
I have kept this perspective throughout. And I think it helped me. It helped me keep pushing through tough times. Our budget battle for the police last year was difficult. And that created another callback. …
I think it helps to have a background that I had. I come from the city center. I experienced homelessness growing up. I was raised by a single mother and I say this not out of sadness or shame, but out of pride. Someone who has worked hard to get me and my sisters to the positions we are in now, and that helps you connect with people in a different way.
It means no matter the neighborhood, no matter the problem, no matter the people, it can be a room of 100 Trump Republicans who hate everything I am. I’ll be in this room. I’m going to introduce myself. I will listen. I’ll make sure we do something to make a difference.