Learning experience for Wichita PD recruits comes with visit to Black Wall Street

Recruits from the Wichita Police Department traveled to Tulsa to learn how events like the Tulsa Race Riots have impacted race relations with law enforcement.
Published: Mar. 31, 2023 at 9:08 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) -Recruits with the Wichita Police Department are learning from history to better serve different communities when they’re out on the streets. In a time when recruiting new officers is a challenge, the WPD said it wants its new employees to better understand sources of police distrust and how to address barriers. 12 News joined WPD members as they journeyed to a historic site in northeast Oklahoma, Tulsa’s Black Wall Street.

“This is the area where African Americans ultimately migrated when they came to Tulsa,” Greenwood Rising Executive Director Raymond Doswell said.

The Greenwood District of Tulsa was an area of life and prosperity for members of the Black community. It was the area coined as “Black Wall Street.” The name came with the economic prosperity of business owners in the Greenwood District.

“As a result of segregation, the wealth that these folks were building became very insular,” Doswell said.

In 1921, a white mob attacked the neighborhood, burning it to the ground. Friday at the Greenwood Rising History Center, recruits walked through the before, during and after of the 1921 massacre.

Recruits weren’t the only ones with the WPD learning about this history. Chief Joe Sullivan said it was during a conference when he first walked through the history center.

“The Chief of Tulsa took myself and other chiefs to this exhibit, and I was just floored,” WPD Chief Joe Sullivan said. “First, I was a little embarrassed. I knew nothing about this horrific incident. This was an act of domestic terrorism before that terminology was even coined.”

Sullivan wanted to share the history with WPD recruits.

“I knew a big thing about Black history and culture is resilience and bouncing back, so I was excited to walk in these doors and really get a look into the past,” WPD recruit Makenzie Chapin said.

Chief Sullivan said in Philidelphia, recruits would be taken to the African America History Museum, Jewish History Museum and Constitution Center for a similar purpose of learning about diversity and other cultures.

“Being educated and understanding where people are coming from,” WPD recruit Joe Cannon said. “Those hurts that they might have buried, but maybe some of their emotional interaction with you might come up because of those things.”

Doswell said, “So that everybody has common ground to work from. So we all know the history, we know the facts, there’s no speculation about that, and then we can push forward toward reconciliation.”

The trip to Greenwood Rising was part of a larger effort by WPD to increase how much time officers and recruits spend learning about diversity and interacting with other cultures. Chief Sullivan said it’s also essential for him to have officers who will be responsive when they see an injustice.

“We have to instill in them the ethical courage to stand up when something is occurring in front of them that is wrong,” Sullivan said. “Think how different history would be today if one officer had said ‘no’ during the murder of George Floyd.”

He went on to say, “We have to make sure that the officers that we’re hiring and about to put onto the street in various neighborhoods throughout the City of Wichita, that they have a foundation in the culture of those communities. They have somewhat understanding of why there is distrust within those communities for the police because of the historical experiences with law enforcement so that they’re better able to overcome those barriers and increase levels of communication, increase trust.”

Through understanding, the effort is about making officers more equipped to respond, build bridges with those they serve, and make a difference in the process.

Along with the trip to Greenwood Rising Friday was St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church Pastor Pamela Hughes. Pastor Hughes said it’s important to expand knowledge and cultural sensitivity. She is working and collaborating with WPD to build those relationships with different communities.

“There is still hope, and know as we get to work together and strive that there is no limit to what we can do together,” said Pastor Hughes.

Cannon said, “The more that we can be educated on the history that people bring with them, whether it be good things or bad things when they come into an interaction, the better off we can be to prepare and know how to respond to those different things.”

Chief Sullivan said he plans to make this a regular part of recruiting classes and work with the Tulsa Police Chief about having their recruiting classes share their experience and delve into these issues.