Grassroots advocates continue their task of uncovering justice wrongdoings and helping the victims tell their stories and reclaim their power.
By Asia Jones
For the past three years, Justice for Wyandotte has fought for and brought about change within the justice system in Wyandotte County, and their work continues. Along the way, they’ve created a growing network of resources that help victims of Wyandotte’s justice system tell their stories and reclaim their power.
“We formed in 2020 after getting fed up with the idea that no one was helping people who had been victimized,” said Justice for Wyandotte Vice President Khadijah Hardaway.
EXPOSING THE WRONGDOING
With a history of nearly unchecked corruption dating back to the 1960s, there were a lot of victims of the Kansas City, KS Police Department and the surrounding justice system.
To no avail, members of the city’s Black community continued to complain about the department’s excessive use of force, harassment, intimidation, fabrication of evidence, arresting people on false charges, and about individuals being forced to provide false testimony to avoid being locked up on false charges themselves.
Finally, after decades of allegations of wrongdoing, LaMonte McIntyre was exonerated after serving 23 years for a KCK murder he didn’t commit, His release helped expose the systemic corruption, but there was no recourse for the rest of the victims, many of them Black women who had been sexually assaulted and victimized, often by KCKPD’s most notorious officer, Roger Golubski.
It was this lack of attention to the Black women victims that initially motivated Hardaway, Justice for Wyandotte co-founder and president Nikki Richardson, and Dr. Sheryl Stewart, who acts as secretary and treasurer, to address systemic reform in Wyandotte County.
“We saw the need for victims to have a bigger voice and a bigger impact on the movement. We knew we couldn’t really get anything done without them having that type of power,” said Hardaway.
THE 7TH STREET PODCAST
It was 2020 and there was a lot happening. The pandemic was in full swing and communities across the country were responding to the death of George Floyd, and Justice for Wyandotte wanted to make sure the pressure remained on local justice departments including KCKPD, the courts, the FBI and others, many of them with offices along the 7th Street corridor in KCK.
In response, “The 7th Street Podcast” was created to provide victims in Wyandotte an opportunity to share their stories and serve as a source of hope for those who were seeking justice in unsolved cases. To date, the podcast hosted by Richardson has empowered more than 33 women through storytelling and shed a light on issues prevalent along the 7th Street corridor.
“The corruption is just so widespread and it’s infiltrated through so many entities up and down 7th Street that it is really hard to find where the fire is because there is so much smoke,” Richardson pointed out.
COLD CASE UNIT ESTABLISHED
McIntrye’s exoneration also helped bring attention to several cold cases and deaths of Black women throughout KCK that weren’t being investigated.
“Many of these women had died through suspicious circumstances and what we learned is that there wasn’t a specialized unit within the KCK police department that investigated these unsolved homicides,” said Richardson. “Yet the families were constantly told that these cases were under investigation, but by whom?”
To address the issues. In 2021, Justice for Wyandotte created a petition requesting creation of a Cold Case Unit in the KCK Police Department. With the support of new KCK Police Chief Karl Oakman, by January 2022 a cold case unit was established to prioritize investigation of the city’s more than 280 cold cases.
VICTIMS RECLAIMING THEIR POWER
As Golubski, who was finally charged for some of his past misdoings in 2022, awaits trial, Justice for Wyandotte helps victims reclaim their power.
“What we have learned in doing this work, is that there are no victim-services resources when the aggressor is an officer,” shares Richardson. “If you’re a victim of police misconduct or a member of your family was killed by a police officer, the type of communication and resources that you get within KCKPD is nonexistent.”
This realization prompted the creation of the Healing Circle program which offers therapy services to victims of community violence. In addition to having a therapist on staff, they offer scholarships for therapy, including options for couples, families, and individuals.
THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM
Both Hardaway and Richardson have ties to Kansas City, KS, and have a unique passion for improving the city.
“This is personal to me because this is my home,” says Richardson. “It’s a lot of work, it’s very unforgiving work and it’s a very slow process for reform and the only reason I spend the additional hours outside of my day job is because it is Wyandotte County. It is KCK. It is where my mother and my grandmother live.”
“When something happens to you that is unjust, a lot of times we just don’t know what to do,” Hardaway said. “From my own experience, not having the knowledge when I walked through an unjust situation was heartbreaking, it was depressing and overwhelming. I had one good mentor who called me every single day and told me to get up and told me that I had to make a difference, it was going to take me. And she showed me what I needed to do and I listened and I took that information …and I started working on justice work.”
Justice for Wyandotte continues to push for greater transparency in the KCKPD. This May, they submitted a request through the KCK Law Enforcement Advisory Board – which Richardson sits on – to have the department publicly display their use-of-force policy on their website. That policy was made public on the department’s public website this June and can be reviewed at https://www.kckpd.org/Transparency/Policies-and-Procedures..
Justice for Wyandotte is still pushing for more transparency within the KCKPD including a request to move investigation of the department’s officer-involved shootings to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.
SUPPORT JUSTICE FOR WYANDOTTE
In 2021, the organization officially became a 501(c)(3) public charity focused on ending corruption, promoting healing, and empowering Kansas City residents. You can support Justice for Wyandotte in their work for justice and victim advocacy by making a donation through their website https://www.justiceforwyandotte.org/.
For more details about upcoming advocacy events, you can subscribe to their newsletter using their website or follow their social page https://www.facebook.com/justiceforwyandotte.