WPD, community activists come together for 'First Steps Cookout'

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WICHITA, Kan. There was unity in Wichita Sunday night after a tense week for activists and law enforcement in the community, as well as nationwide.

Sunday night's event in Wichita's McAdams Park drew a crowd of nearly 1,000 people. The name of the gathering was the 'First Steps Cookout.'

Many people who spoke to Eyewitness News reporter Deedee Sun say the event was largely a positive step to bring the Wichita Police Department closer to the community it serves.

A large crowd gathered in McAdams Park enjoyed free food and the opportunity to have one-on-one conversations with law enforcement.

"Very good vibe. Very good vibe. It's everything I was hoping for," says Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay.

The barbecue took place instead of a planned protest for Sunday night.

Ramsay suggested the event to community leaders following a Black Lives Matter protest in the city last week.

Ramsay had said the barbecue was an opportunity for citizens and police to be introduced and to have positive interaction. Nearly 400 people pledged their intention to attend the event with an RSVP. More than double that amount attended.

Leading up to the barbecue, there was a lot of positive support in response to the event on social media. People at the barbecue said it is the right way to respond to the unrest going on across the country.

The Wichita Police Department brought the burgers and grilled up and served food. Many others also brought food, contributing what they could to the barbecue.

The turnout at the barbecue was especially encouraging for some following the events that unfolded earlier in the day in Baton Rouge with three officers fatally shot by a gunman.

"Especially after what happened in Baton Rouge today, just makes it all the more painful. But I just feel very proud of my city that there's so many people here," says Margaret at the 'First Steps Cookout.' "It's wonderful."

Civilians and officers say the barbecue was a concrete step toward bridging the gap between people and police.

Part of the event included a Question and Answer session with Ramsay. Some in attendance did take this opportunity to voice frustrations.

One man says he viewed the cookout as an attempt to take attention away from real cause of the tension between some citizens and police.

Ramsay says his department is committed to making things better.

"This isn't something we're going to change overnight or tonight," he says. "It's just going to take continual effort on everybody's part. And work on policy changes, relationships. And that's what's going to get to the heart of the issues."