An alternative to a protest in support of Black Lives Matter took place at McAdams Park in Wichita on Sunday: a cookout uniting hundreds in the Wichita community with law enforcement officers. It was an effort to get to know each other in a relaxed setting.
Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay thought of the idea and local activist AJ Bohannon agreed to co-host. KMUW’s Carla Eckels was there at the First Steps Community Cookout and caught up with some of the folks attending.
I think it’s great. We brought a thousand hamburgers and 2,000 hot dogs, so I hope they all get gone. It looks like they will. People seem to be enjoying themselves, and that’s what we want.
I think this is a very historic event, something we’ve not seen in our community since the Dockum Sit-in. It’s very awe-inspiring to see individuals of all persuasions, all age groups, are reflected here. If we could do more of this, I think it would go a long way to quelling some of the tension that presently exists inside many urban communities, in their relationship with the police department.
I feel for the community. I know a lot of people have been hurt. A lot of people are angry, and I just want to come out and show my support for the community, and for all people in it make sure they know that I want their safety. I want everyone to be safe. All lives matter, but Black Lives Matter right now.
I’m a minority, I’m a Pakistani, I’m a Muslim, and being a Muslim in America can have a negative connotation to it sometimes. There’re a very select few who give us all a bad name, and so I think there’s a similar aspect of that for Black Lives Matter, and with bad cops that give a bad name to the rest of the police force, and the same thing for black people and other races as well. This event, to me, is meant to bring the community together.
I would just like to continue to see the unity and the friendships and the partnerships and the fellowships, and I hope it opens lines of communication, and hopefully we can sit down and resolve something, come to mutual agreement.
It’s an amazing turnout. I’m definitely blessed to be a part of something like this and to be able to spearhead something like this in this community.
I think what happened in Baton Rouge made this event that much more important so that we can get on the same page and so those things that happened in Baton Rouge don’t trickle over into Wichita, Kansas. My heart goes out to those families and those officers in Baton Rouge, but the fact that that did happen makes this event more meaningful.
My heart hurts for the rest of the country, and everything that’s going on, and all the unrest, but to have this going on in our town, and our city, and to be shown as a positive high spot in the nation, when all the other unrest is going on, just kind of makes me tremendously proud as well.
Community interactions with the police are important because you actually get to see the people who are policing you as human beings, rather than just people with a gun.
I do believe Black Lives Matter. It’s not just the police officers that died senselessly, it was also the black men, and we should get the recognition also because we are important, and we’re not just disposable.
Wichita Police Officer Von Hardin
It’s a good starting process for the city of Wichita. Everybody getting along, everybody having fun.
What I’d like to see next is to keep this trend going, having more functions with the community.
Wichita Police Officer Mike Johnson
This is a way to bring the community and us together. It’s building that bridge that’s been separated for a very long time. We needed to do this years ago, but I’m glad god’s blessed all of us to be here and to start doing something right now.
I don’t see the justice of what’s really going to come about from all this, just feeding people and asking questions. Our justice system and our government, it's all corrupt. So until we go to officials who put these officers in charge...that’s where we need to go.
So a lot of people look at it as Black Lives Matter. They don’t look at just the black portion of it, right? Obviously, we understand that all lives matter. We understand it’s not just about the black lives, in general, it’s just that’s what’s happening to the black lives at this point in time. I mean, once that changes, maybe that Black Lives Matter statement can go away for a while, but until that changes, we’re going to stick to that.
Next week, I go to what’s called the National Black Caucus of Locally Elected Officials. They’ve already put me on a panel, and I’m going to just praise my city, and how we have handled things all the way from the beginning, which was No Ferguson Here. There are a lot of people to thank because we are in this place right here today.
Best part of the day? "The fellowship," says AJ Bohannon. "Citizens hugging police. Citizens hugging sheriffs. Old hugging the young. The young hugging the old. This is amazing. Just to be able to put something like this together and witness it? This is definitely a milestone in my life I’ll never forget."
Carla Eckels is assistant news director and the host of Soulsations. Follow her on Twitter @Eckels.
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