More than 100 community members gathered in Harris Park last weekend to honor and continue to fight for justice for Ryan Stokes, a man killed by a Kansas City Police Department officer in 2013.
The basketball court at Harris Park on East 40th and Wayne Avenue is now the Ryan Stokes Memorial Basketball Court. Stokes’ mother Narene Stokes hopes the memorial basketball court displays Stokes’ true character, that of a good man who loved his community and family.
Harris Park’s founder Chris Harris said he remembers Stokes practicing on the basketball court growing up.
“I had the pleasure of watching Ryan play here for about 10 years. Every Wednesday he was here,” Harris said. “He was a good kid and I’m glad I had the pleasure to know him.”
In collaboration with Harris, Sam Yates of Yup Yup Design and Phil Shafer with Sike Style Industries designed the mural on the Ryan Stokes Memorial basketball Court, which features Stokes’ nickname ‘Fatback,’ sneakers and the words “#Ryan’sLifeMatters.”
“It’s been a year working on the project, but it only took seven days to paint it,” Shafer said. “I’m glad we are able to celebrate Ryan’s life and give back to the community.”
On July 28, 2013, in the Power and Light District, Ryan was shot five times in the back by Kansas City Police Officer William Thompson. The shooting followed a dispute about a stolen cell phone. Ryan was unarmed, but Thompson said Ryan had a gun, which led to him discharging his weapon.
When officers notified Narene, she said they portrayed Ryan as a criminal, which she knew was not true.
“An unjust, inadequate, immoral law enforcement system took and stopped (Ryan’s) body,” said Rev. Vernon Percy Howard, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City. “We will always stand and fight for justice. His name lives on. His legacy lives on.”
Last year, a federal judge ruled that the officer who shot and killed Stokes used “reasonable” deadly force. The Stokes family is appealing the ruling.
“Everything that we did in terms of restoring Ryan’s name was done for his 9-year-old daughter Neriah, so that she could look on the internet, she could look anywhere around the city and see how wonderful a father that she was blessed with,” said Cyndy Short, the Stokes family’s lawyer.
Narene hopes the memorial court serves as a place for children in the community to play and where she can visit and be reminded of her son.
The family is also hoping to name a basketball tournament and a scholarship after Stokes.