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KCMO Police Chief honored with Bodhisattva Award

Interfaith meditation at KC Buddhist center brings 2014 to a close

Police Chief Darryl Forte stands at a podium holding a glass award. KCMO Police Chief Darryl Forte was recognized at the 29th annual World Peace Meditation with the Bodhisattva Award, given for selflessness and the pursuit of peace. (photo by Caitlin Cress/Hale Center for Journalism)
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When the bell sounds, the room goes still. All eyes are closed or looking upward. Hands are folded or holding the hand of a neighbor.

All this signifies the beginning of the 29th annual meditation for world peace as a part of an interfaith gathering at the Rime Buddhist Center in Kansas City, Missouri, at 6 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 31.

The quiet of the room is broken only by sirens rushing by outside — a distraction that perhaps points to the need for the meditation in the first place.

The siren is also especially poignant when considering the community member selected this year to be recognized with the center’s annual Bodhisattva Award: KCMO Police Chief Darryl Forté.

The Bodhisattva Award was added to the annual World Peace Meditation 15 years ago when the Rime Center began hosting the event. Lama Chuck Stanford, spiritual leader at the center, said the word “bodhisattva” is hard to translate but went on to explain it:  “In Buddhism, ‘bodhi’ means awake and ‘sattva’ means being, so it’s an awakened being or an enlightened being,” he said. “A bodhisattva is one who works for the benefit of others and puts others needs ahead of their own.”

Stanford cited the lowering of KCMO’s crime rate and Forté’s encouragement of cultural compassion as reasons why the chief was selected. He pointed specifically to an action Forté took recently.

“He asked me, along with several other (minority) religious leaders — a Jewish rabbi, a Muslim imam and, myself, a Buddhist lama — to come speak to his commanders on each of these faiths so they could be informed and educated about these faiths and who represented them in the community,” he said. “If they encounter somebody who’s Muslim or Buddhist, they might have a better understanding of where they’re coming from. I thought that was just amazing.”

“In the African-American faith community, we say, ‘If we ever needed the Lord, we need him now,’” Alvin Brooks said. “Whoever you worship — a person, an individual, a spirit — we need them now.”

Past Bodhisattva Award recipient Alvin Brooks, a former police officer and the founder of the Ad Hoc Group Against Crime, spoke glowingly of Forté before his award was presented.

“He will not take credit for the reduc(tion) of violent crime,” Brooks said, “but as the president of the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners, we ought to be proud of Chief Darryl Forté.”

In the three years Forté has been police chief, murder rates have trended down in Kansas City. According to stats released by the city, murder numbers are 31.5 percent lower in 2014 than they were in 2013. Forté wrote recently on the KCPD Chief blog that this was “the first significant reduction in homicides in the last 50 years.”

While Wednesday’s New Year’s Eve service focused on a neutral idea of peace, multiple references to the current national unrest between police and the public were made. Forté was selected as this year’s Bodhisattva Award recipient around six months ago, Stanford said — long before Mike Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri, initiated a national movement. This coincidence — that an African-American police chief was selected in a year with so much turmoil around the issues of race and criminal justice — seems meaningful, Stanford said.

In a conversation with Flatland before the service, Forté said he is honored to be recognized, in part, because of the connection he has to protests against police discrimination and brutality. As an African-American man, he has personal experiences to inform his policing.

“I understand the frustration from some because I feel that frustration, and I’ve felt that since I was a kid being raised in Kansas City and, in my middle school and high school years, being raised in a predominantly white environment,” he said on Monday. “I’ve seen some things that other people may not have been exposed to from both sides. … I’ve been involved in discriminatory practices, I’ve been on the receiving end of that: outside of law enforcement and inside, being an African-American police officer.

“I’m not angry,” he continued, “but I feel the emotions of some people, and that’s why I’ve said over and over, ‘Express your anger, express your satisfaction or anger or pleasure or whatever. Express it, just do it in a lawful way.’”

Forté thanked the faith community for calling ahead and working with police when planning protests in the past several months. He said this forethought and teamwork has helped to keep the peace.

“It’s not just the Kansas City Police Department,” he said. “It’s the entire community of Kansas City.”

Brooks said that this peace meditation and the work of Forté could not have come at a better time.

“In the African-American faith community, we say, ‘If we ever needed the Lord, we need him now,’” he said. “Whoever you worship — a person, an individual, a spirit — we need them now.”

Brooks said all in attendance should pray to release “those things that bogged us down in 2014. Freedom is still worthwhile fighting for.”

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