Online campaign to recall Mayor Lucas fueled by dogwhistle racism, conspiracy theories
[Editor’s note: This piece contains a number of uses of racist language, quoted from a public Facebook page. This content may not be appropriate for all readers.]
A recall effort targeting Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas is raising questions about race and public health issues in Kansas City. Recall organizers filed a petition affidavit claiming Mayor Lucas failed to manage what they describe as “COVID-19 panic” and “civil unrest”—aka, riots.
A closer look into the group’s publicly-available activity reveals a dark trend of anti-Black racism, QAnon conspiracy, and ties to the Kansas City Police Department. Members frequently allude to support for, and from, KCPD officers and their families.
The recall is organized through a Facebook group titled “RECALL KANSAS CITY MAYOR QUINTON LUCAS” which has amassed 13,000 followers and counting. Group members come from throughout the Kansas City metro area (group members have mentioned that many come from the Northland), rural Missouri, and from as far away as Tacomah, Washington, and Texarkana, Arkansas.
The Facebook group’s “About” section says the group’s aim is to recall “tyrant” Mayor Lucas for “egregious disregard of our Constitutional rights, and insane, anti-scientific mandates.” The group’s admins post signature-gathering locations each day, and occasional Facebook videos promoting the campaign and other events like anti-mask protests and “Back the Blue” rallies.
Comments from the public Facebook group are quoted as they were written.
Group admins have posted comments discouraging overt racism. They ask group members to report offensive posts, and sometimes will turn off comments on posts. Administrators posted that the recall isn’t racist, and has no position on the Black Lives Matter movement. A closer look at posts and discussion, however, shows that the group’s stated intention isn’t living up to reality.
On a September 7th post, one commenter said, “the era of the shuck and jive negro politicians is come to an END. No more excuses time for superior intellect and Solutions to reign!” No one pushed back on the comment. No one took it down. “Thank you for your support,” someone replied. “We are one city and we need to stand together to make it better for all.”
Among the group’s most engaging posts—posts with the most comments, shares, and likes—are posts that criticize Black leaders, the Black Lives Matter movement and allyship for the movement. Commenters frequently called BLM “terrorists” (they are not). Posts criticize the city’s recent Black Lives Matter mural project (“BLM is trash. Anyone who supports this terrorist organization is a trash human being,” said one) and the Kansas City Chiefs’ decision to recognize social justice in its opening game. When describing what the recall is about, one member said “This is also about BLM that’s why I volunteer.” (“I volunteer because of BLM too,” replied another.)
The group frequently touts support from Kansas City Police Department officers and their families. A photo posted on September 6th showed a volunteer sipping a shake at a signature-gathering table in a park, with the caption, “Had a great day today. I really want to thank the Kcpd daughter that brought us some lemonade shakes. Your support makes us proud to be part of this.”
One of the group’s leading organizers, who posts Facebook live updates and locations of signature-gathering tables, posted a photo of herself wearing a shirt that read “I DO F THE POLICE” (the letter “o” in the word “do” was an image of a wedding ring—hint hint).
A September 6th post from Chris Gerlt reads “If the Mayor is doing such a GREAT JOB then why are City employees and KCPD officers’ signing the recall.” The post was shared 91 times and attracted more than 120 comments, including posts saying “I had several officers sign,” and “the police are signing faster than anyone else.” A September 2nd post reads “we have many officers wanting to sign.” Signatures, however, have not been made public.
Along with anti-Black and pro-police messages, the page frequently attacks masks and public health information around the coronavirus pandemic. In photos of the recall’s signature-gathering and a recent rally it hosted, few if any attendees wear masks, and are not practicing social distancing. A post on September 8th called upon members to “burn your masks;” within two hours, it was shared more than 60 times and attracted over 250 likes. A September 6th post positing that masks reduce the wearer’s immunity—an idea not backed by science—attracted over 300 likes and 134 comments.
The Facebook group’s opinions—whether about racist tropes, mask safety or riots—are troublingly devoid of fact.
Contrary to the Facebook group, most Kansas City residents support Mayor Lucas’ mask mandate. A July Kansas City resident survey found that 78 percent of residents support the city’s mask mandate—a level consistent with national surveys. An AP-NORC poll in July found that 3 out of 4 Americans, including many Republicans, also support wearing masks.
Contrary to the group’s beliefs, masks work. A Wichita Eagle and Kansas City Star study of COVID-19 cases in Kansas found that mask mandates correlated with a drop in cases, and areas without mandates saw an increase in cases. Some posts and comments within the group call for the city to “open,” yet all Kansas City businesses, including bars, are already allowed to be open, though with public health safeguards.
The recall effort blames Mayor Lucas for Kansas City’s riots, but again, research points to another cause. In more than fifty years of research on riots, including three federal commissions, researchers found that police violence—weapons, tear gas, and mass arrests, all a common sight in Kansas City’s early protests—are a significant cause of riots. Half of the Civil Rights-era urban riots studied by the 1967 Kerner Commission, it turns out, were sparked by police violence. Even intimations of violence—wearing riot gear, for instance—can trigger riots. Researchers urge police departments to de-escalate their responses to protests, and they urge cities to improve pathways to resolve public complaints regarding police violence.
To justify support for police, the recall group’s members post news about Kansas City’s homicides. More policing would prevent this and Mayor Lucas is to blame, the posts imply. Wrong.
In the groundbreaking book Until We Reckon, violence prevention expert and reformative justice practitioner Danielle Sered reveals that the four key drivers of violence are “shame, isolation, exposure to violence, and an inability to meet one’s economic needs.” Remarkably, Sered finds that the defining features of prison are “shame, isolation, exposure to violence, and an inability to meet one’s economic needs.” Our criminal justice system indoctrinates violence, Sered posits, and America has the highest incarceration rate in the world. The long-term damage is particularly severe in over-policed neighborhoods, where most of Kansas City’s homicides take place.
It has been months since George Floyd was murdered on that Minneapolis spring day. Our nation has undergone a racial awakening, but to what extent? A September 3rd Ipsos poll found national views around racism have become more partisan, with a scant 1 in 10 Republicans supportive of protests (3 out of 4 Democrats, by comparison, support protests). Instances of backlash are mounting, with pro-Trump paramilitary activists killing protestors in Portland, and here in Kansas City, there’s no reason to believe we would be immune. The Kansas City Star brought to light racism and ostracization inflicted on a biracial family when they settled in a Northland neighborhood—but the vast majority of cases go unreported.
Intentional ignorance about our safety and health—whether in the form of racism, riots or masks—does not make America great. And yet, our nation’s highest office embraces callow blindness. On September 5th, Donald Trump directed all federal agencies to ban anti-racism training, calling it “divisive, un-American propaganda.” Implicit bias and critical race theory training had been implemented because studies verified that federal agencies disproportionately awarded contracts to white-owned businesses. The federal government is the nation’s largest employer.
Recalling Mayor Lucas would not stop violence, and it would not stop COVID-19; to the contrary, this group’s proposed solutions would make these problems worse, and raise questions about emboldened racism in our own backyard.
A GoFundMe was launched to raise money for the cause. Even within the group it was met with questions from supporters of who the “grifters” were who were running this, and where the money was going.
The recall needs 13,241 certified signatures before September 24th; if petitioners fail to reach that count on time, they will be granted ten extra days to gather more. The group’s leaders aren’t saying how many they’ve gotten.
According to the city charter, if the petition succeeds the Mayor would have five days to resign or the city would be required to hold a special election. The petition was filed too late to qualify for the November ballot; if it passes, a special election would be held in early 2021.
The group’s Facebook page is public, as of the publication of this piece. Anyone can view or comment on the posts, report offensive content, or report the group. Relatively few posts internally challenge the group’s racism and anti-mask theories, but a few speak out.
On a post shared September 4th, a commenter asks: “Is there a black man in office that y’all like?”
“Notice how the true racists always mention race,” someone incredulously responded.
In summary, if you’re someone who spent the weekend claiming that it wasn’t possible that any booing happened during the Black Lives Matter moment at Thursday’s Chiefs game because racism doesn’t live here—well, you’ve got literally thousands of posts in this single group that you’ll need to find excuses to explain away.
You can search the group to see which of your friends, co-workers, and neighbors are among the nearly 13,572 members proud to support this community.