Challenged on police union money, KC Council member will donate to civil rights group

A Kansas City councilwoman said she plans to raise and donate $1,575 to a local civil rights organization, to match a campaign contribution she received from the local police union.

Melissa Robinson, who represents the Third District, said Saturday that she would donate the money the Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity – MORE2.

The decision came after she and other council members were challenged on social media for accepting donations from the police union, which has defended a Kansas City police sergeant indicted Friday for felony third-degree assault. Sgt. Matthew T. Neal, 40, is accused of assaulting a 15-year-old boy and leaving him with several broken teeth, bruising and a gash on his head.

Robinson, said the money she will donate represents the contribution the Kansas City Fraternal Order of Police made to Robinson’s successful city council campaign earlier this year.

Other members of the council also received contributions from the police union in the past few years: Mayor Quinton Lucas received $5,950, Councilwoman Andrea Bough received $5,400, Councilman Lee Barnes Jr. received $5,400, Councilman Dan Fowler received $1,575, and Councilwoman Ryana Parks-Shaw received $1,575.

“While I believe in the importance of working with the KCPD to meet the moment and solve the pressing issues that the department is facing, from my view, reform is not happening with a sense of urgency within the police department, within the Police Commission and within the Fraternal Order of Police,” Robinson said Sunday.

“Today I am choosing to invest in relationships with organizations that are working on structural changes – like MORE2, the Urban League, the NAACP and SCLC.”

‘I can’t breathe’

Criticism of the city council members for accepting money from the police union came after a union leader on Friday spoke in defense of the indicted police officer.

Brad Lemon, president of the Kansas City Fraternal Order of Police, said in a written statement that Neal’s actions “were justified under the totality of the circumstances.”

The charge against Neal stems from a Nov. 14 incident in the parking lot of the Go Chicken Go restaurant at 51st Street and Troost Avenue.

During the incident, the handcuffed teen was lying on the ground when Neal allegedly forced his knee on the back of the teen’s head, pinning his face into the pavement and forcing him to struggle for oxygen, charging documents said.

The victim was heard saying “I can’t breathe,” according to Jackson County prosecutors.

The teen was not arrested or charged with any crime associated with the incident.

“As a black woman with two black sons it is really unfathomable to me that in 2020 we are still grappling with the brutality of young Black men at the hands of police,” Robinson said. “I really believe that now is the time for deep structural changes which requires solidarity, realignment and partners that share the same values and sense of urgency.”

Robinson said she continues to support the work of law enforcement, including those officers who risk their lives every day to serve and protect the community.

“I will never disassociate myself with them or my advocacy for them,” she said.

Robinson said she supports the work of MORE2 and the other groups who have called for police reform, sought local control of the police department, require officers to wear body cameras and the dismantling the current oversight agency for the department, the Office of Community Complaints.

Lora McDonald, executive director of MORE2, said the organization is pleased with the pending donation and commended Robinson for her work on behalf of constituents.

“Councilwoman Robinson is our first out-front supporter of local control and a leadership change within KCPD and we are grateful, always, when she invests in our work for racial equity,” McDonald said. “She walks the walk.”

MORE2, along with the Urban League of Greater Kansas City and the Kansas City branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People have called for Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith to resign. The groups cited a lack of confidence in his handling of fatal police shootings of Black men, and allegations of excessive use of force by officers in the department.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Quinton Lucas on Sunday did not comment on Robinson’s decision to donate the money to MORE2, or on whether Lucas might do the same, but said Lucas has worked to initiate reform and transparency in the police department.

“In less than thirteen months in office, Mayor Lucas has introduced and passed more promised substantive changes in criminal law and police accountability at Council and the Board of Police Commissioners than any Kansas City mayor or council member in memory,” Morgan Said wrote in an email.

“He will continue doing so regardless of past support in a concluded race with hundreds of donors.”

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