Mayor Of Kansas City, Mo., Wants To Eliminate Marijuana Offenses | New Hampshire Public Radio

Mayor Of Kansas City, Mo., Wants To Eliminate Marijuana Offenses

Jun 19, 2020

Across the country, leaders and activists are seeking ways to improve relations between their communities and the police, including how to reduce encounters that lead to arrests and the use of force. In places such as Kansas City, Mo., this has renewed calls to ease marijuana laws.

Mayor Quinton Lucas, a Democrat, has announced a plan to completely remove all offenses related to marijuana possession from the city code, which he says are often pretexts for stopping people and lead to over-policing of Black and brown communities and negative police interactions.

"We need to just stop harassing people," he tells NPR's Mary Louise Kelly on All Things Considered. "Blacks are disproportionately, in Kansas City, stopped, arrested, charged and incarcerated in connection with marijuana offenses. And I'd like to see that change."

Lucas is pushing other reforms, too, such as increasing the number of minority officers on the Kansas City police force, which is about 78% white in a city that's 29% Black, and embedding social workers in every station.

But on the issue of broader systemic change, the 35-year-old Kansas City native is not optimistic. "America has broken my heart too many times," he says.

Here are excerpts from the interview.

The city council rejected a [marijuana] decriminalization measure as recently as last November. What gives you confidence that you'll be able to get this done now?

[In] this moment in our country, I think a lot of people are saying, "Wait a second, I need to look at the areas of privilege that I have." And all of the things that before perhaps you weren't questioning or thinking about, that we are now. And I think when we look at policing in our country and our community, we have to say that we need to actually address more issues as it pertains to the laws that shouldn't be on the books anymore.

As a Black man from the historically Black, economically disadvantaged side of Kansas City, how is this moment hitting you?

It is tougher than probably anything that I have gone through. ... When I saw the George Floyd video, I actually had to stop watching it. ... To be Black in America is to know that any minor offense, any minor transgression, mouthing off to a cop or anyone, can mean termination from a job or frankly, termination of your life.

I grew up with lessons and stories about how you respond to police officers. It's distressing and it's heartbreaking and it's made all the more challenging because I'm the titular leader of the Kansas City Police Department.

Do you feel hopeful that a year from now, the country might actually be in a different place?

Honestly, no. ... I have grave concerns. I was a kid during the Rodney King beating and then the subsequent LA riots when the officers were acquitted. And I still remember vividly, I think I even asked my mom, like, how does that happen? It's on videotape. And here we are, 28 years after the LA riots and we're dealing with the exact same thing. ...

I'm going to try my level best to make sure things change in Kansas City.

But no, I'm not hopeful. America has broken my heart too many times. I've seen institutions go back the same way. I see that Black kids, like I was 28 years ago, are learning the same lessons and asking why. I don't know how there's even a debate now on what we can and should change. But I also recognize as the mayor of Kansas City, probably 50% of my electorate is saying you're doing too much to curtail police behavior and we want you to go back to respecting them more.

Listen to the full interview at the audio link above.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Cities and towns around the country are looking hard at how to improve relations between their communities and the police, including how to reduce encounters that lead to arrests and use of force, often disproportionately against Black people. In some places, this has renewed calls to soften laws around marijuana. And we're going to hear from one of those places next, Kansas City, Mo., where the mayor has announced a plan to completely remove violations about marijuana possession from the city code. Well, Quinton Lucas is the mayor, and he joins us now. Mayor, welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

QUINTON LUCAS: It is good to be with you.

KELLY: What is your goal with this measure?

LUCAS: You know, my goal is this - to make sure that marijuana stops, which can be pretextual for any number of things, are eliminated in Kansas City. I think when we listen to the current movement going on, a lot of folks are saying we want to change how the criminal justice system works. One area of change that's important is that we need to just stop harassing people. We need to stop interfering with their ability to go about their daily lives. Blacks are disproportionately in Kansas City stopped, arrested, charged and incarcerated in connection with marijuana offenses, and I'd like to see that change.

KELLY: Now, I know this is something you all have been working on for a while in Kansas City. The city council rejected a decriminalization measure as recently as last November. What gives you confidence that you'll be able to get this done now?

LUCAS: You know, I will say very candidly - our protest movement, this moment in our country. A lot of people are saying wait a second, I need to look at the areas of privilege that I have and all of the things that before perhaps you weren't questioning or thinking about that we are now. I think when we look at policing in our country and our community we have to say, we need to actually address more issues as it pertains to the laws that shouldn't be on the books anymore.

KELLY: One more additional question. As a black man from the historically black, economically disadvantaged side of Kansas City, I wonder how is this moment - when the whole country has opened its eyes a little bit more to the issues facing black Americans. How is this moment hitting you?

LUCAS: It is really tough. It is tougher than probably anything that I have gone through externally than almost any moment in my life. When I saw the George Floyd video, I actually had to stop watching. I felt it because to be black in America is to know that any minor offense, any minor transgression - mouthing off to a cop or anyone - can mean termination from a job or, frankly, termination of your life. I grew up with lessons and stories about how you respond to police officers. I grew up with our hip-hop radio station in Kansas City. They would say, all right, if you're stopped by the cops, young men, know that you need to show your hands and all of that.

KELLY: Yeah.

LUCAS: That was so we wouldn't get killed. It's distressing, and it's heartbreaking, and it's made all the more challenging because I'm the titular leader of the Kansas City Police Department. You know, it's something that I don't think I've actually figured out the answer to, but it sure as hell makes me want to change so much of what we're doing so that this moment isn't just forgotten. This isn't just a story about protests, riots, all those issues, but instead is about how we made a transformative change in the criminal justice system.

KELLY: Yeah. Well, I was going to ask, do you feel hopeful that there actually will be real change, that a year from now the conversation that we're having and the country might actually be in a different place?

LUCAS: Honestly, no. And I shouldn't answer that way, but no. I have grave concerns. I was a kid during the Rodney King beating and then the subsequent LA riots when the officers were acquitted. And I still remember vividly. I think I even asked my mom, like, how does that happen, right? It's on videotape. And here we are 28 years after the LA riots, and we're dealing with the exact same thing. And so I'm going to try my level best to make sure things change in Kansas City. But no, I'm not hopeful.

America has broken my heart too many times. I've seen institutions go back the same way. I see that Black kids - like I was 28 years ago - are learning the same lessons and asking why. I don't know how there's even a debate now on what we can and should change. But I also recognize as the mayor of Kansas City, probably 50% of my electorate is saying, you're doing too much to curtail police behavior, and we want you to go back to respecting them more.

KELLY: Mayor Lucas, thank you.

LUCAS: Thank you.

KELLY: That was Mayor Quinton Lucas - a Democrat - mayor of Kansas City, Mo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.