How a Black Lives Matter protest became a community picnic with police

Local activists had initially planned to march down the streets of Wichita, Kan., this weekend. Instead, they broke break with police officers.

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    As much of the nation was reeling from yet another act of violence in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, hundreds of people gathered at a barbecue with police in Wichita, Kansas. Video by Oliver Morrison / The Wichita Eagle.
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Residents and police in Wichita, Kansas, broke bread together after a planned Black Lives Matter protest was turned into to a free community cookout amid racial tensions across the country.

After a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest last week, Police Chief Gordon Ramsay met with local activist leaders to discuss replacing another planned protest with the Sunday cookout.

The cookout's goal was to open a dialogue and build trust between police and citizens.

Lt. Travis Rakestraw shared a table with three men, where they discussed police violence and racial disparity. The officer said he was particularly impressed by the opinions of Ivan Ray, a Hispanic student at the University of Kansas, and how he framed the issue of police violence from the perspective of other social issues like poverty and education.

"The community needs more people like you who can see the problems in wide open eyes," Rakestraw told Ray at the cookout. "What should we do about it?"

The men told the Wichita Eagle ( ) they were surprised that Rakestraw seemed to care about what they had to say, and that he had contemplated the same issues. All three men said they still planned on marching in protest.

From a police perspective, Rakestraw said a conversation like the one he had with the residents felt more productive than many of the protests he had seen recently, but he had no complaints about the earlier peaceful protest in Wichita.

"I don't think it's a conscious effort," Rakestraw told them men when discussing why racial biases sometimes persist. "I don't think anybody does it intentionally but we fill in the gaps with life experiences, what we read in the paper, and we start to view people as a generalization instead of understanding people as individuals."

Smaller conversations between community members and police turned into a public forum later that evening when residents were able to ask Ramsay questions.

One woman told Ramsay about an experience with police where she said she'd been physically mistreated.

"If you feel mistreated, I want to know about it," Ramsay said. "If they feel they are being mistreated, at the scene is not the time to argue about it, wait until it's over."

Another resident asked the police chief about weeding out bad police officers.

"Loud and clear I have zero tolerance for racial profiling or racial bias," Ramsay said.

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