By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — The 77 homicides in Kansas City in 2014 were the lowest number in more than 40 years.
Police Chief Darryl Forte told parishioners at St. Monica Parish that he would love to take all the credit for that, but he can’t so he won’t.
That credit belongs to the people who are again learning that they can trust law enforcement, and that love will conquer hate, common sense will conquer rage.
It was the same message preached by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It was also the same message emphasized by Bishop Robert W. Finn in his homily at a special Mass that day, honoring the Jan. 19 national holiday to mark the birth of the historic champion of equality, dignity and civil rights for everyone.
“The deep healing of wounds can only be accomplished with God’s help,” Bishop Finn said during the Mass in the parish church that preceded Chief Forte’s speech in the parish hall.
“We are one humanity, one human family, different sizes and shapes, different colors. We come from different histories, unique cultures. We speak with different accents and know God by varied names,” Bishop Finn said.
“We are one humanity. Jesus invites us to a high calling: ‘Love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you.’ He invites us to live a love without limits,” the bishop said.
Chief Forte, the city’s first African-American chief of police whose department includes 1,400 men and women sworn “to serve and to protect,” noted that homicides spiked in Kansas City in the wake of the 1968 riots following Dr. King’s assassination, and hit an all-time high in 1993, the year after a gang of Los Angeles police officers were videotaped clubbing Rodney King as he lay on the ground.
“People didn’t trust the police anymore, so they handled things themselves,” Chief Forte said.
He is out to change that, the chief promised.
“We (in the department) have had this culture were we operate out of the love of power,” he said. “I want to operate out of the power of love.”
Racial profiling must end, Chief Forte said. That is exemplified by the fact that police disproportionately stop black motorists, and disproportionately suspect young black males.
“You go through the process of getting a (police) job, the first day of the academy, they are trying to make you afraid of people,” he said. “Racism plays a big part in that. I’m focusing on making sure we are treating people right. We have got to act like adults.”
Chief Forte said his department intends to enforce the law and protect the peace vigorously. One policy that he began early in his first three years as chief was “hot spot policing” in which the department pours resources and manpower into neighborhoods experiencing high levels of crime.
“I’ve gotten zero complaints from those neighborhoods about moving police in and being out there and more active,” he said.
Chief Forte also praised the people of Kansas City. When the St. Louis County grand jury chose not to charge a Ferguson police officer for the killing last August of an unarmed black teenager, that city went up in flames.
In Kansas City, there were vigorous protests, he said, but police and protestors worked together to keep the protests peaceful.
“We are not trying to deny anyone their right to protest,” Chief Forte said. “But do it the right way. Don’t be violent.”
That was also the message of Dr. King, Bishop Finn reminded the congregation at St. Monica.
“Nonviolence, he said ‘seeks to defeat injustice, not people,’” Bishop Finn said.
“He professed that ‘accepting suffering can transform others.’ Nonviolence, according to Martin Luther King Jr., ‘chooses love instead of hate,’” Bishop Finn said.
But Bishop Finn said it is not enough to change laws.
“Hearts have to change,” he said. And that must be done one person at a time.
“I don’t know if we can decide overnight to love a race of people. I don’t know if we can truly embrace a whole nationality, or all the adherents of a religion,” he said.
“But we can love one another,” Bishop Finn said.
“I can truly care about you. You can decide that you want to love me,” he said.
“I don’t know what big accomplishments we can count,” Bishop Finn said. “But if we don’t come together; if we don’t try, what will become of our Catholic community — black and white? What will happen to the unborn child, to the unconscious patient needing someone with them when they die, to the new immigrant who can’t afford the lawyers to stay legal?
“Can we love them, can we love each other, one at a time?” Bishop Finn said.