I live in Kansas City, where the line between Kansas and Missouri is somewhat obscured. Kansas Citians cheer for the same sports teams, we shop and eat on both sides of the border. Personally, I’ve lived on the Kansas and Missouri sides of the city, and have planted churches in the suburbs of each state. The Kansas City Star, one of the countries great newspapers, does an excellent job of covering both Kansas and Missouri politics, so it’s easy to stay up on the happenings in both states. I have to say: right now, living here on the border between Kansas and Missouri is nothing short of bizarre.
Missouri is literally on fire as the community of Ferguson struggles to come to grips with the fatal shooting of an 18 year old man in broad daylight by a police officer. The testimony of Brown’s friend who was walking with Brown at the time of the shooting is chilling:
Dorian Johnson, 22, told CNN that he and Brown were walking in the middle of the street when a white male officer pulled up and told them, “Get the f*** on the sidewalk.” The young men replied that they were “not but a minute away from our destination, and we would shortly be out of the street,” Johnson said. The officer drove forward but stopped and backed up, almost hitting the pair, Johnson said.
“We were so close, almost inches away, that when he tried to open his door aggressively, the door ricocheted both off me and Big Mike’s body and closed back on the officer,” Johnson said. Still in his car, the officer then grabbed Brown by his neck, Johnson said. Brown tried to pull away, but the officer kept pulling Brown toward him, he said. The officer drew his weapon, and “he said, ‘I’ll shoot you’ or ‘I’m going to shoot’ ” and almost instantaneously fired his weapon, hitting Brown, Johnson said.
Johnson and a bloodied Brown took off running, and Johnson hid behind the first car he saw, he said. The officer got out of his car. “I saw the officer proceeding after my friend Big Mike with his gun drawn, and he fired a second shot and that struck my friend… he turned around with his hands up, beginning to tell the officer that he was unarmed and to tell him to stop shooting. But at that time, the officer firing several more shots into my friend, and he hit the ground and died… We wasn’t committing any crime, bringing no harm to nobody, but my friend was murdered in cold blood,” (from CNN)
Police are saying that the confrontation occurred after Michael Brown punched the officer through the window of the police cruiser and tried to take his weapon. Protestors have taken to the streets of the city, and have been met with riot gear, assault vehicles, tear gas, and rubber bullets. Authorities have declared a no-fly zone over the city in an effort to keep the media from covering the riots from the air. Last night two journalists were bullied, assaulted, and briefly detained while camped out at a McDonald’s restaurant. After four nights of protests, it looks like this situation is anything but over.
Stanley Hauerwas is fond of saying the trouble with the Obama presidency is that it gives us the illusion that racism is over. There’s a black man in the White House, so we’re good, right? The recent events in Ferguson seem to suggest we still have a lot of work to do.
On the other side of the state line, Kansas is playing with fire as well. It’s difficult for many to imagine, but Kansas has been historically moderate leaning. The state entered the union as a free state. The move fueled pro-slavery Quantrill’s Raiders in a vigilante attack on Lawrence that left the city burned to the ground, and almost 200 men and boys massacred. It was a conservative guerrilla raid on liberal Lawrence (the only liberal stronghold still in existence in the state). Bleeding Kansas attracted free-thinking independent minded citizens, if not radicals.
For most of its history Kansas has been led by pragmatic centrists. Over the past three decades Kansas have elected as many Democratic Governors as Republican ones. Her citizens have typically been prepared to vote for a candidate from either party provided said candidate was essentially moderate. But recent years have seen a radical shift toward conservatism in the state. There’s even a book about the dramatic shift, called What’s the Matter With Kansas?
The symbolic leader of this shift to the political right is conservative Gov. Sam Brownback. (I say symbolic because the true leaders seem to be the Koch brothers). From The New York Times:
“Mr. Brownback, 57, has overseen the largest income tax cuts in state history, an expansion of gun rights, restrictions on abortion, sharply reduced welfare rolls, increased voter-registration scrutiny and a paring of state government bureaucracy. To accomplish his goals, he helped push the Republican-majority Legislature further to the right by working to oust moderate Republicans, deepening a longstanding rift within the state’s G.O.P.”
Kansas used to be Bob Dole and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Not anymore. Today it’s Koch Brothers and Tea Party… or so I thought.
The latest news is that Brownback, who led his Democratic challenger Paul Davis 47-40% in spring polling, is now trailing in the polls 51-41%. Facing a deteriorating budget situation (the one moderates warned about for his entire first term), has strained Brownback’s credibility. He could probably weather that storm. However, the state seems to have clued-in to the fact that healthcare, assistance for the poor, courts, and other state services have been gutted in order to mask the financial troubles created by the tax cuts.
Most troubling, especially given Brownback’s conspicuous Christian faith, is the plight of the Kansas poor. Childhood poverty is on the rise. The number of people receiving welfare has dropped 45% during his term. They haven’t found jobs. They’ve just been kicked off welfare. Across the board, the governor’s policies seem to be failing drastically. Red State or not, Brownback could be going down.
To top it all off, the Kansas City Royals–a team which hasn’t made the playoffs in almost 30 years–is in first place. It’s freaking me out. It’s all bizarre here on the border between Kansas and Missouri.