Wichitans reflect on 1980 riots in response to incident of police brutality

Published: Jun. 1, 2020 at 8:49 PM CDT
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So far, rallies in Wichita have been peaceful in the call for justice in the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., a contract from tensions escalating 40 years ago when riots broke out in north Wichita.

In 1980, the anger toward police centered on officers' treatment of a black man as he walked down the street.

DJ Don Thompson, who was there and remembers the riots well, says police harassed the man walking along the street near 21st and Hillside. He says an officer told the man he couldn't be on the sidewalk, on someone else's property. The man said he was on his family's property, but the officer kept harassing him. Thompson says another officer got involved and threw the man to the ground.

Thompson says he pleaded for the police to stop.

"I said, 'ya'll crushing him, this man's going to die laying here on this ground. He's going to die,'" Thompson says. "That's when the cars started getting turned over. Cars were getting set on fire."

Kansas Senator Oletah Faust-Goudeau also remembers the 1980 riots well.

"I was at Wichita State, but I had stopped by to visit my sister who loved off Minnesota and 21st, right there by I-135," she remembers. "Some friends were going to stop by and pick me up. And so, when I got in the car and we pulled off, we thought, 'what are all these cars and people doing out here?'"

She says as they approached the interstate, she looked back and saw people throwing rocks "at every car going by."

Looking back on what happened, Thompson voices disbelief that incidents like what witnessed still happen in the U.S.

"I'm like, we're still living this nightmare," he says.