The 20-year-old’s impassioned speech saw her call out the city’s board of police commissioners by name, condemning them as ‘soulless, profit-driven, greedy humans’ who subject Black people to terrorism
“Fair warning,” says 20-year-old Keiajah ‘KJ’ Brooks as she takes to the microphone at a Kansas City board of police commissioners meeting. “I’m not nice, and I don’t seek to be respectable.” It’s the perfect opening to a speech saturated with scathing takedowns, each of which vehemently takes the Kansas City Police Department (KCPD) to task.
Brooks is a community organiser and activist based in the city, whose impassioned speech about police brutality went viral last week. “It feels awe-inspiring,” she tells Dazed. “Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve always been like this. So to see the whole world concur with my innate nature is amazing.”
Co-founder of activist organisation, Tha Chingona Collective – a group fighting for liberation, led by Black, Indigenous, and Latinx women – Brooks is no stranger to speaking up for her community. Although she wasn’t originally intending to speak at the board of police commissioners meeting, Brooks used the opportunity to very personally hold its members accountable for the “brutalisation and murder of Black people in Kansas City”.
According to recent statistics, Kansas City has the 10th highest rate of police killings of any city in the US, and between 2013 and 2019, Black people in the city were killed at 4.5 times the rate of white people. In recent months, the KCPD has come under fire for its handling of police violence, with a petition calling for the removal of the department’s chief, Rick Smith, amassing over 2,400 signatures.
As well as condemning the KCPD for using Black children as photo opportunities – “they’re cute now, but in 10 years they’re ‘Black male suspect in red shirt and khaki shorts’,” she said – Brooks accused the “soulless white folks and self-preserving Black folks” at the meeting of choosing profit over people. She then went on to address each board member by name, or, as Brooks describes it, “reading y’all for a filth”.
This included dragging “the gentleman in the vomit-coloured men’s warehouse suit in desperate need of bosley and a haircut”, labelling one member “a cop lover”, and denouncing another as having blood on his hands. Brooks concluded her speech with a quote from the Bible, and described Jesus as “another unarmed Black man murdered by authorities in the book you hell-bound people claim to love so much”.
The clip has been shared across multiple social media platforms, with people praising Brooks as speaking “truth to power”, and celebrating her as a “courageous Black Queen”. Brooks says she hopes the new attention “will force the abolishment of KCPD and the creation of community-based policing”.
Here, Dazed speaks to Brooks about her speech, why she’s fighting for abolition as opposed to reform, and why it’s vital for politicians to embed themselves in the communities they work for.
allow me to introduce myself. my name is Keiajah Gabrell Brooks. or KJ. i’m 20 years old. i’m black af. i’m far from a respectable negro, as most of y’all have seen. i hate capitalism. i love my people. i am an abolitionist. i use she/they or real/nigga pronouns (1/?) pic.twitter.com/xeZpxbL8mE— kj (@kjgbrks) October 30, 2020
How did you end up speaking at the Kansas City police commissioners meeting? What emotions did you feel while making your speech?
KJ Brooks: I came with a group of activists, community organisers, corporate sponsors, and civil rights leaders. I wasn’t originally planning to speak, but I woke up very angry and signed up to speak the second I got there. I wrote the speech as I sat in the audience and watched the mannerisms of the board members, and the politeness of those who spoke before me. I was angry that they were so nonchalant, and angry that people were addressing them kindly and thanking them. We pay for that building – they should be thanking us.
How does it feel to see your speech go viral? What do you hope it might achieve?
KJ Brooks: It feels awe-inspiring. Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve always been like this. So to see the whole world concur with my innate nature is really amazing. I hope that the new attention, coupled with planned direct actions, will force the abolishment of KCPD and the creation of community-based policing, and a reallocation of funds to other life-affirming institutions.
“The system as we know it is directly derivative of slave-patrol. You cannot reform a system that was made to catch and re-enslave Black people” – KJ Brooks
Why are you fighting for police abolition as opposed to reform?
KJ Brooks: The system as we know it is directly derivative of slave-patrol. You cannot reform a system that was made to catch and re-enslave Black people. The policing system is innately harmful and terroristic. I’ve never heard anyone say, ‘That’s a good crip. He’s killed a few people, but that’s a good crip’, so why are cops afforded that luxury? No amount of sensitivity and diversity training can undo the historic connotation of policing.
You said in an Instagram Live that you’re hoping to journey into politics, and you mentioned the importance of working in the community first. Why is this so vital?
KJ Brooks: It’s vital to know the people and the needs of my community. I can’t go based on what I think they need, I need to ask them what they need and go from there. That’s what our politics lacks. We have performative people like Quinton Lucas, the mayor of Kansas City, who use the fact that they’re from (the community they work for) to milk their oppression – only to oppress others the second they have the opportunity to. I love Black people and want their love, trust, and approval before exalting myself as the leader of Kansas City. I do see myself running for city council in a few years.
You’re part of Tha Chingona Collective. Can you tell me a little about its formation and what it aims to do? What action do you have planned next?
KJ Brooks: We formed organically after we witnessed a lot of miscentring in some of the movement spaces in Kansas City. A lot of these spaces are mainly comprised of white people who take up too much space, Black men who don’t wish to yield the power, or clout-chasing figures who are willing to sacrifice those closest to the problem if it means they get to be in front of the camera and look like they’re closest to the solution.
We want to be BIPOC-centred. We aim to drive systemic changes and liberate Black, Indigenous, and Latinx people, specifically female-identifying and non-binary people in our communities. We will launch our ‘Chingona Cop Watch’ programme shortly. A lot of people in Kansas City recognise me from “cop stops”, where I watch and record the interactions of police and Black Kansas Citians when I have the chance to. We are hoping to raise enough funds to be able to pay BIPOC people to monitor traffic stops while also in cute neon pink vests.
How can those in Kansas City get involved in activism?
KJ Brooks: They are more than welcome to tap into my organisation, Tha Chingona Collective. There’s also several wonderful and Black-centred organisations such as Crowned KC, Operation Liberation, Reale Justice Network, It’s Time 4 Justice, Shirley’s Kitchen Cabinet, KC Tenants, for those seeking to help aid in ending rent, SURJ, for white allies, and countless other organisations. Just reach out to them!
How do you feel ahead of the election?
KJ Brooks: I feel overwhelmed and slightly pessimistic. I hope it goes in favour of Biden/Harris, but I’m not too sure. I had a really bad dream a few nights ago about reinvigoration of cross burning days, and I’m hoping that won’t come into fruition.