Team ROC, the social justice arm of hip-hop mogul Jay-Z’s entertainment company, is amplifying community demands that the Justice Department investigate the Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department, writing in an open letter Tuesday that “there is no excuse to justify the DOJ’s silence.”
Team Roc, joined by the nonprofit Midwest Innocence Project, said there is enough evidence of systemic police misconduct in the department that a “pattern or practice” investigation is necessary to review allegations of wrongdoing and discrimination.
“The DOJ’s continued inaction tells targeted minority communities held hostage to the whims of the carceral state that justice does not exist for them, that their lives do not matter,” says the letter, which is addressed to Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta.
Team Roc lawyer Alex Spiro said allegations of corruption and civil rights violations against police over the decades are not isolated.
The incidents include the case of a former Kansas City detective who was the subject of a federal investigation last year after he was accused of exploiting Black women for sex and framing people for crimes they say they did not commit.
In addition, FBI records dating to the 1990s and made public in recent months highlight that federal investigators found numerous allegations of civil rights violations and that about 200 Kansas City police officers were accused of misconduct and excessive force complaints over the years.
The recent news reports about the department “kept hitting our desk over and over again,” Spiro said last week, “and we knew we had to get involved.”
Team Roc sued the police department in September to obtain additional records to “help ascertain the scope of the misconduct and evaluate the adequacy of the [department’s] training and supervision.” The group then took out a full-page ad in The Washington Post calling for an investigation, and Spiro wrote to the Justice Department last month alleging that a “blue wall of silence” has allowed the misconduct to fester.
The police department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Police Chief Karl Oakman, a veteran officer who took over the 345-member agency in June, said last year that he would assist in general with any investigations.
“Our relationship with the community is of utmost importance which is why we are focused on strengthening current relationships and restoring those that have been broken,” he said in a statement.
Under Attorney General Merrick Garland, the Justice Department has relaxed the Trump administration’s reluctance to investigate police departments and increased such inquiries in the wake of demands for more accountability after the police killing of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis, in 2020. Police departments in Minneapolis; Phoenix; Louisville, Kentucky; and Mount Vernon, New York, are under federal review of allegations of civil rights violations.
That has given hope to activists in Kansas City, Kansas, where about half the population is Black and Latino, as well as in neighboring Kansas City, Missouri, where a coalition of civil rights groups is also pushing for an investigation into accusations that the police department has engaged in discrimination and excessive force against people of color.
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Gupta, who oversees the department’s civil litigating divisions, told The Post last fall that “whether or not an investigation is opened, we take all of the requests and information provided seriously.” But the agency is getting a lot more requests for investigations, said Gupta, who said she hopes that by increasing its budget by $25 million this year, the division can hire more lawyers.
Ken Novak, a professor of criminal justice and criminology at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, said it is typically in the best interest of cities where the Justice Department conducts pattern or practice reviews to engage and to develop policies and training for corrective behavior.
The federal government can take police departments or cities to court to enforce so-called consent decrees that lay out overhauls in policing practices, but “whether there is sufficient evidence of problematic patterns and practices or whether Kansas City is any closer to a consent decree than it was several months ago” remains unclear, Novak said.