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As Protests Continue And Some Turn Destructive, Wichita Leaders Call For Calm

Nadya Faulx
Employees at O'Reilly Auto Parts at 21st and Arkansas replace a broken glass door Wednesday morning. A participant in a late-night protest threw a cinder block into the glass, they explained.

City and religious leaders are calling for demonstrations to "get back on track" after protests turned destructive for the second night in a row.

What started as a peaceful demonstration in west Wichita Tuesday evening ended with some participants looting a QuikTrip and damaging other businesses at 21st and Arkansas. The intersection has been the site of protests each night since Sunday.

Credit Nadya Faulx / KMUW
The Metro PCS store at 21st and Arkansas remained boarded Wednesday morning.

"I think it’s critically important that we make a distinction, especially here in Wichita, that there is a difference between lawful protest and those few bad actors who are looting QuikTrip," Mayor Brandon Whipple said during a news conference Wednesday.

Police Chief Gordon Ramsay said officers arrested seven people over the course of the night. Police cleared an initial demonstration at 21st and Maize after a fight between protesters and counter-protesters.

Some headed to 21st and Arkansas, where the previous night police had fired at protesters with foam bullets after some in the crowd became "hostile," Ramsay said. Two people were arrested in that incident.

An auto parts store, mobile phone store and the QuikTrip have been damaged in the nightly demonstrations.

"The community’s speaking loud and clear, this has hurt that neighborhood," Ramsay said Wednesday afternoon. "What started out as well-intended protest was hijacked by some individuals with other intentions. And I think it’s going to have a significant negative impact on that community."

Credit Nadya Faulx / KMUW
Employees at O'Reilly Auto Parts carry away a broken glass door.

Whipple said so far there are no plans to institute a city curfew.

C. Richard Kirkendoll, president of the Wichita Greater Ministerial League, said the disturbances could take away from other peaceful protests that have been taking place, including one Saturday that drew hundreds to the north patrol station near Wichita State University.

"They were able to voice their anger in a peaceful way, and we gained a lot of ground," Kirkendoll said. "But the incidents that took place for the last three nights, we not only lost ground but we lost our focus."

He said the ministerial league will do "everything we can to try to calm things down and get back on track."

"We have to get this back under suggestion for the community so that we can sit and holding our bargaining position because now people are listening."

Kirkendoll was among several religious leaders who joined Whipple on Tuesday afternoon to pray and "send a message of peace" to the community.

Activist Willie Scott said he hoped Wichita could be a role model for other cities.

"We are in the nation where a lot of division is happening right now,” he said, "but in the city of Wichita we are praying that we stand as an example to the nation and the world of what it means to come together as one."

Demonstrations continue to take place across the country in protest of police brutality against African-Americans. The rallies began last week in response to the death George Floyd, who died in police custody.

Credit Nadya Faulx / KMUW
Rev. Kevin Graham speaks at a gathering of religious and city leaders Tuesday. The group prayed and shared a "message of peace."

At the city prayer Tuesday afternoon, Rev. Kevin Graham thanked "good" law enforcement.

"We laud and applaud you," he said. "But in the same vein, there are some bad law enforcement. And they must go."

More demonstrations are planned over the coming weeks, including a sit-in outside City Hall on Friday and a peaceful rally at McAdams Park on Saturday, June 13.

New advisory board

Whipple on Tuesday also formed a new advisory board he hopes will ensure the city has "all the voices at the table."

The 20-member advisory board on diversity, inclusion and civil rights will bring together religious leaders, community activists, and political officials, including City Council member Brandon Johnson, Sedgwick County Republican Party Chairman Dalton Glasscock, Islamic Society of Wichita spokesman Hussam Madi and entrepreneur Marquetta Atkins.

Whipple said it’s more important than ever for the community to have a link to policy-makers in local government.

"The goal of this is to talk about what we’re doing well as a city, what we're not doing so well and how we can improve, with the hope of having some actions steps," he said during the city council meeting.

But some council members questioned whether the board has a clearly defined purpose, and whether it was formed too hastily. Whipple announced the creation of the board in a Twitter video posted Monday night.

Council member Cindy Claycomb said she was "a little frustrated and disappointed" the mayor hadn’t provided more information ahead of Tuesday's meeting.

Council member Becky Tuttle cautioned that city leaders shouldn’t just listen to the board, but also take action.

"The worst thing I think you can do is ask people for their opinion or their guidance and then not use it," Tuttle said. "What if the committee makes recommendations that we can’t fulfill?"

She said while she applauds the mayor for "being thoughtful and considerate … I also think that doing something quickly may not necessarily be best way." The council voted unanimously to approve the new board and the mayor’s appointments.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday afternoon, Whipple said he doesn't have an agenda for the board.

"I believe that if we facilitate the right discussion or we ground people's experiences and their stories that’s going to lead us naturally into policy solutions."

Nadya Faulx is KMUW's Digital News Editor and Reporter, which means she splits her time between working on-air and working online, managing news on KMUW.org, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. She joined KMUW in 2015 after working for a newspaper in western North Dakota. Before that she was a diversity intern at NPR in Washington, D.C.