‘They want everyone to get along and work for the common good’: Race relations discussed from all sides

Mark McCormick remembers when he was 14 years old, pedaling his five-speed bike down the road to his mother’s home in Wichita. A few blocks away, a burglary was taking place — unknown to McCormick.

His bike would come to a screeching halt before he ever reached his driveway. A tall, white police officer stopped McCormick’s bike in the middle of the street.

Confused, McCormick innocently stopped and asked that he be allowed to walk his bike to his yard just a couple of houses down. The bike continued to lie in the street as the cop popped a gripping pair of handcuffs on McCormick, quickly throwing the teenager’s small body into the back of the squad car.

McCormick, who was sporting a white T-shift and some green sweatpants, was mistaken by police as the African-American suspect who had committed the robbery an hour before at a local fast-food hub, Dog ‘N’ Shake.

At the scene of the crime, the victim, a young African-American woman who had just had a knife held to her throat, let out an outrageous cry when she saw the officer escort McCormick into the building.

“No! No! I told you the man was in his mid-30s,” she shouted.

McCormick avoided the jailhouse, and the police officer respectfully drove him back to his home.

Yet, more than 40 years later, McCormick still sees the racial tension in Wichita.

“Race relations are still very much us versus them,” McCormick said.

McCormick admitted that he has implicit biases; he said others do, too.

“I have them. We all have them. We just have to admit it,” McCormick said.

McCormick said in Wichita, he observes a line of police officers that don’t belong on the force. He said those who have implicit biases shouldn’t be in the position of commanding traffic stops.

Terri Moses, former deputy chief of police and 38-year veteran of the Wichita police department, said the issue isn’t profiling.

Moses has battled racial profiling since the term became mainstream in 1999. She said it is customary for police officers to be stationed in and around areas where the vast majority of issues occur. She added that those areas are impoverished parts of the city and mostly occupied by African-Americans.

Some burdens plagued Moses emotionally, but none so much as racial profiling, she said.

She recounted a time when a colleague and friend, was killed while on the force. A day later, she responded to a call where her unit arrested an African-American man. Moses and other police officers celebrated with high-fives one outside the scene.

“We were pissed off,” Moses said. “We were tired of being told that we were worth shit and to go die.”

Moses said she’s regretful for her actions. Even more than 17 years since the scene took place, Google searches of “Terri Moses” will show results of “Terri Moses racist.” She fears that she will forever be labeled as a racist.

“Why can’t we forgive each other an come back and have an honest conversation?” Moses said.

Moses said it takes something tragic to pull people together and start the conversation about race relations, but said if Wichita wants to continue to make strides they have to be willing to be proactive.

“If we open our eyes to accepting one another and seeing one another’s point of view, we can see this world come together,” she said. “We aren’t going to change everything over night, but we have to be willing to try.”

Gordon Ramsay said he is willing to try to resolve race relations in Wichita.

Ramsay was appointed police chief of Wichita in January.

He started in police work as a 20-year-old officer in his home community of Duluth, Minnesota. There he was one of the first bike cops.

He said working as a bike cop kept him connected with the community.

For example, he once responded to a call of children loitering in front of a grocery store. As he pulled up to the store on his bicycle he heard on of the children say, “Here comes the damn police.” Quickly, another child corrected his friends’ fears saying, “It’s only Ramsay, it’s nothing to worry about.”

“That moment changed my life,” Ramsay said. “I had an impact on those kids and they trusted me.”

These actions helped break down the negative stereotypes of police officers, he said. Ramsay hopes similar actions will resolve some of the issues in Wichita.

Ramsay started bridging relations with the African-American community with the creation of “God Squad,” which he said helps pull religious leaders together to help advise him on the issues impacting the African-American communities. Ramsay and his wife and children attend a different black church in Wichita every Sunday.

“I’ve been really focused on community policing and relationships, particularly with the communities of color because that’s where the biggest issues are,” Ramsay said.

Yet, during a summer defined my simmering tensions fueled by killings of black civilians and law enforcement officers, Ramsay faced the challenge of keeping the Wichita community civil.

Ramsay proactively worked with community leaders to create the First Steps Community Cookout, bringing together nearly 2,000 people, including law enforcement and leaders of the local Black Lives Matter movement among other Wichita residents. The event was the brainchild of a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest that took place in Wichita about a week prior.

“Our country is really polarized,” Ramsay told Stan Finger of The Wichita Eagle at the time. “To see groups and police coming together in a positive event … it gives people hope.

“They want everyone to get along and work for the common good.”

America noticed Ramsay being proactive in community policing. His actions landed him an invitation to the White House — an invite he kindly declined for a prescheduled wedding commitment.

McCormick, however, believes that the praise wasn’t entirely deserved.

“He’s gotten a lot of praise and attention, but for people like me, I’m still angry,” McCormick said.

“One of my sons is driving. He’s terrified every night when he’s driving home that he will be stopped — and that makes me angry.”

Ramsay responded by saying that he doesn’t believe officers are targeting people of color, but he admitted that according to police records, African-Americans are called in as suspects most frequently.

McCormick said he doesn’t think people in the community understand the role police play in these issues. He added that he respects Ramsay and believe he is an earnest, hardworking person, but he said that he’s not entirely satisfied with the community cookout.

“The police chief effectively killed a lot of the positive movement forward in terms of addressing these police shooting issues,” he said. “He’s killed any and all progress towards resolving the issue of race relations in Wichita.

“Racism is experiential. It’s based on relationships. As long as there’s this distance between us, we’re going to continue yelling. We will close the gap when we open our hearts.”