- Ryan Sorrellfounder of the Black-led independent newspaper The Kansas City Defender.
- Justice Gatsonexecutive director of Reale Justice Network.
Black residents in Kansas City, Missouri, say police ignored their warnings that a murderer was targeting Black women, until one of his captives escaped earlier this month. A 22-year-old Black woman in Excelsior Springs, just outside Kansas City, said she broke free from the basement where a white man held her captive for a month. She also claimed there were more victims, all of them Black women, who were similarly sexually abused. Timothy Haslett Jr. is now in police custody and faces rape, kidnapping and assault charges. Prior to his arrest, the Kansas City Police Department said concerns about a possible serial killer were “completely unfounded” rumors. “This speaks to the violent silencing of Black women specifically, of the Black community at large here in Kansas City,” says Ryan Sorrell, founder of the Black-led independent newspaper Kansas City Defender, which reported on the missing Black women. “This is ongoing. We have cases back in the ’90s where Black women have been murdered,” notes Justice Gatson, executive director of the Black women-led group Reale Justice Network in Kansas City, Missouri.
AMY GOODMAN: A warning to our listeners and viewers: We begin today’s show with a story that includes graphic details of sexual violence.
On October 7th, a 22-year-old Black woman in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, escaped from a white man who she says held her captive in his basement for nearly a month, whipping, torturing and raping her repeatedly. The woman fled and knocked on a neighbor’s door for help after the man left the house to take his son to school.
LISA JOHNSON: About 7:30 a.m., I faintly heard a young female saying, “Help me.”
AMY GOODMAN: Lisa Johnson was the first person to encounter the woman and to help rescue her. She told the Excelsior Citizen the woman was nearly naked as she pleaded for help.
LISA JOHNSON: It was actually like an S&M dress. It was plastic, black plastic, very short. It wasn’t shorts, it was a dress. That’s all she had on her, and the duct tape around her neck and the collar. And she was — it was restricted. It was a metal collar. It looked like a shock collar, a homemade one at that. … I seen the — her wrists were pretty messed up, and her ankles. … I asked what she needed. It was obvious. I didn’t really have to ask at that point. I just started looking. First thing I did was tell her I was calling the police. That kind of agitated her. He told her that if I called the police, that he would kill both of us if he found out. She said he already killed her two friends that she was with.
AMY GOODMAN: The woman who escaped said other Black women were killed by her abductor. She has not spoken publicly. She has not been named. But she helped break open a story that the Kansas City police had vehemently denied. As community members raised alarm that Black women and girls were being disappeared in September, possibly by a serial killer, police responded by saying the reports were, quote, “completely unfounded.” Some of the concerns were raised in a now-viral video by Bishop Tony Caldwell of Eternal Life Church by the independent publication The Kansas City Defender.
BISHOP TONY CALDWELL: I am a little upset right now. The reason I’m upset is because we got four young ladies that have been murdered within the last week here off of 85th and Prospect. We got a serial killer again. And ain’t nobody saying nothing. The media is not covering it. We got three young ladies that are missing. Ain’t nobody saying a word. What is the problem? Why? Why can’t we get some cooperation? Where’s our community leaders? Where’s our activists? Where’s our public officials? Where’s our police department? Where is those folks at in President Gardens? Come on, now. We need to start knocking doors. We need to start making sure that this is brought to the light. We cannot continue to let this happen.
AMY GOODMAN: After that video went viral in September, the Kansas City Police Department’s spokesperson insisted there was, quote, “no basis to support this rumor,” unquote. But police have since arrested 39-year-old Timothy Haslett of Excelsior Springs, Missouri, for kidnapping and torturing the woman who escaped. The Kansas City Defender has reported on his social media posts, saying they show the sexual predator was, quote, “a white supremacist who believed we are in a 'race war.'”
For more, we’re joined in Kansas City by two guests: Ryan Sorrell, founder of the Black-led independent newspaper The Kansas City Defender, and Justice Gatson, executive director of the Reale Justice Network, a Black Women-led organization based in Kansas City, Missouri.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! I mean, Ryan, your Black-led independent newspaper has been leading the charge on this, as the police department adamantly denied there was any issue, until this woman escaped with chains. Can you take us through this story? And not only her story, but she said to the woman who helped her that her friends were killed.
RYAN SORRELL: Absolutely. I mean, I think that this is one of the most horrific tragedies that I have ever come across in my lifetime. I know that when we first reported this story, we received it from numerous community members who were making these reports and testimonies, is what we refer to them as. The police department refers to them as “rumors,” largely because they come from the Black community. But we reported these reports and testimonies in mid-to-late September. And, you know, rather than reaching out to us to understand and gather more information about where we got this information from, rather than reaching out to the community to understand where these concerns were coming from, the police department, three days after we reported this initially, you know, came out and literally just said these are completely unfounded rumors, is what they called them. And as you mentioned, they said that there is no basis to support these claims.
And so, to me and to us and our community, the number one problem with how the police department handled this situation was that they called it completely unfounded without doing any type of investigation at all. And it seemed much more like they were actually trying to discredit our community voices and to silence our community voices than to look after what was actually happening in our community. And to us, that’s a testament to the type of anti-Blackness that is prevalent in our police department, which is also currently under federal investigation for racism and discrimination.
And so, once these new revelations came out, I actually reached out to the police department to see if they would update their statement or if they still maintain their initial position that our reports were completely unfounded. And they said that they do still maintain, you know, regardless of these new revelations that clearly show that they were wrong — they said they still maintain their position that what we reported, they said specifically, was completely unfounded.
And so, we think that this is a larger conversation even beyond this specific situation. We think that this speaks to the silencing, the violent silencing, of Black women specifically, of the Black community at large here in Kansas City. And this is actually something that has been happening since the inception of the Kansas City Police Department. And we know that this is not the first time that this has ever happened.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Ryan, I’m wondering if you could elaborate on that, some of the department’s legacy of inflicting violence on the Black community, and also, at times, even police officers themselves implicated.
RYAN SORRELL: Absolutely. I mean, our police department, as I mentioned, is under federal investigation at this very moment. The federal investigation was launched a little bit over a month ago.
Even just this past year, there have been multiple cases where the police department has been indicted for corruption — for instance, a situation last year where the very first police officer in Kansas City Police Department history was finally indicted for the murder of an unarmed Black man. And in that case — this was the case of Cameron Lamb. In that case, it was proven in the courtroom that the Kansas City Police Department planted evidence. They planted a gun and said that it was from Cameron Lamb.
In another instance, a man named Malcolm Johnson was murdered in a gas station, and the police department, in the official police reports, said that Malcolm Johnson was armed and that he was engaged in a shootout with the police department. And it wasn’t until weeks later when employees of that gas station leaked surveillance footage that showed that not only was Malcolm Johnson unarmed the entire time, but that he was actually being held down by three police officers, and one of the police officers accidentally shot another police officer and then murdered Malcolm.
And so, this pattern of what’s taking place in our city with the police department lets us know that we have no expectation any longer that they have the capability to be able to provide safety for people in our communities. And so that’s why people like — you’ll hear from Justice Gatson from the Reale Justice Network, these Black women who are creating infrastructure, in public safety infrastructure, that we can create for ourselves in our communities, so that we don’t have to rely on this police department that we know is very clearly and blatantly anti-Black, blatantly racist, and is currently being investigated for these things, so…
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, and you mentioned Justice Gatson. I’d like to bring you into the conversation. Welcome to Democracy Now! Could you talk about the Excelsior Springs neighborhood, where Timothy Haslett lived, and Prospect Avenue, the area where the 22-year-old Black woman who escaped his house was from?
JUSTICE GATSON: Yeah, sure. So, Excelsior Springs is like a suburb of Kansas City. So, down on Prospect area, the 80s, that would be considered in the city of Kansas City. And so, you’ll have to drive out of the city into Excelsior Springs. And so, it’s a smaller community in Excelsior Springs, a quieter community. And quite frankly, I could see an easier space to get away with something like this. And so, yeah, that’s the community, that’s the landscape. This woman was snatched off of the streets in the city and driven to the suburb and forced to stay there for nearly a month and, you know, be the subject of sexual violence and abuse.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, Justice, I mean, this isn’t a police department, when asked about it by Ryan’s newspaper, when asked — when Ryan himself asked, the Black-led independent newspaper, The Kansas City Defender, about these accusations that women and girls were disappearing, it wasn’t just “We’re investigating,” and they dragged their feet; this was them adamantly denying this and not even taking it back to this point, though they did indict this man who, it’s now believed, is a white supremacist, this incredibly brave woman saving herself, escaping in chains when he was taking his kid to school. What do you know about perhaps — what she referred to — other women who he killed?
JUSTICE GATSON: That is something that we are unclear about. Like, we don’t have that evidence. I believe her. Like, I trust survivors, so I believe her. But we don’t know. Like, there have been no reports from the police about any additional women being found. We just don’t know yet about that part.
AMY GOODMAN: But the overall story and how the white press took the police at its word — I mean, they set the agenda by saying —
JUSTICE GATSON: Oh my god.
AMY GOODMAN: — this is completely unfounded, as opposed to —
JUSTICE GATSON: That’s [inaudible].
AMY GOODMAN: — “We’re investigating.”
JUSTICE GATSON: I mean, that’s what they do. They take the police’s word; they do no real investigation. I would say journalistic integrity is lacking, and has been. It’s something that I’m always calling the media out here about, because they do kind of just take the word of the cops, and that’s what they run with. Our community is ignored. Oftentimes we’re not listened to. I’m not surprised that women and MaGes, Black MaGes in particular, are silenced — “MaGes” means marginalized genders — and because that has happened.
Just the disrespect in the tone in which police officers conduct themselves in our community is atrocious. Just the very way they talk to us is unreal. And so, that disrespect has been since forever. I mean, I’ve heard stories growing up. I got to experience my own situations with police. I mean, I told one of your producers the other day about being 15 years old and having the police pull a gun out on me and friends, walking down that Prospect Avenue that this happened on.
And so, you know, this is very — these speak to the traumas in our communities, and they touch us. They touch us in very real ways, because we see it. We get stopped in the cars along with our men who get stopped. We see that trauma. We women are the ones who pick up all of the pieces of everything that’s happening. And so, this has been historic. It has been ongoing.
And, you know, I can’t — what I will speak to is that, I mean, honestly, there are people who come forward, and maybe the police didn’t believe Bishop Caldwell, who, quite honestly, is not a good character, and I would consider him, you know, to be somebody to not trust. And so, I’m thinking that’s probably what happened. But there were other voices speaking out that should have been listened to.
And let’s be real. Even before this, there was Kandii Redd who was murdered in Kansas City, a Black transgender woman, 29 years old. And nobody has done a thing about it. There was another Black woman murdered in Kansas City, and we believe we know who killed her, and nobody has done anything about it. This is ongoing. We have cases back in the '90s where Black women have been murdered. And not to mention the Precious Doe case, where the little girl who was abducted. There was a citizen, Alonzo Washington, who actually broke that case. The police could not figure that out. When we actually did have a serial killer along Prospect, the police didn't figure that out. It was the community who figured that out.
And so, we know for a long time that we’ve been keeping ourselves safe, and that the police, we haven’t been able to trust them. They haven’t shown us that we can trust them. They won’t even talk to us appropriately or listen to our concerns or complaints when we say that something is happening to us in our communities.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Justice, I’m wondering if you could talk about — you mentioned the police. There was a recent arrest of a Kansas City detective who was charged with assaulting and abusing Black women for over a decade, and faces —
JUSTICE GATSON: Yes.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: — six counts of deprivation of civil rights. Can you talk about that case?
JUSTICE GATSON: I can, actually. A friend of mine — her name is Tricia Bushnell, who runs the Midwest Innocence Project, her client, Lamonte McIntyre, while she was assisting him on his case, she met his mother, of course, and from there she began to hear the stories about what was happening with Black women in the community. And it definitely bothered and angered her. We’re actually having an event today about it.
But that police officer sexually abused women in the community. They would do things like, say, they would plant drugs on them. They’ll put a case on them. This is something that I have grown up hearing. This is something that I’ve been exposed to, so I know that it has happened and it does happen. And so, this has been brought to the light, thankfully, that this has gone on. And so, there’s some advocacy around supporting the victims of this police officer, as well as holding him accountable.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Kansas City detective Roger Golubski?
JUSTICE GATSON: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I wanted to end with Ryan Sorrell. These reports of the man who’s been arrested in this particular case, and not clear how many women are his victims, women and girls, but this whole issue of him being a white supremacist, posting — you posting that Haslett was a white supremacist who believed we’re in a “race war.” He posted, “The race war started a long time ago, wake up ya dumb b—”; in another post, saying he believed Breonna Taylor deserved to die. Talk about this.
RYAN SORRELL: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think that that’s all part of it. You know, this is a case of racial terrorism, of sex crimes against Black women specifically, and so I think that the fact that he is a white supremacist is not surprising in the least. We do know, as you mentioned, that he said we’re in a race war. He said that Black people are lesser human beings. He said, “When you start acting like humans,” then he’ll start treating us like humans. And so, I think that, you know, it’s very unsurprising to us that this man, Timothy Haslett Jr., is a white supremacist.
And so, I think, once again, just to go back to what Justice said, this conversation, I think, is much larger than this specific situation, this absolutely horrific situation. And I think that it’s very unfortunate — and this is what I have been telling a lot of people, that it’s truly unfortunate that it required this, such a horrific tragedy, to take place in order — and for us to have to expose how the police department operates, how the police operate.
And I do want to reiterate, as well, that even now, after it was clear that the white media outlets helped silence the Black community in this case, they’re still — even as recently as yesterday evening and today, the white news outlets in our city continue to print exactly and parrot exactly what the police are saying. And so, really, it looks like already they have not learned anything at all from this situation. They continue to believe the police over the community and to continue to silence the community. And so, I think, once again, that’s standard journalistic practices, in many cases, for a lot of these local news outlets, for a lot of these white-owned news outlets.
And so, we want to continue to uplift the conversation around the work that women like Justice are doing for Black women, and to continue to uplift the conversation around how media outlets are complicit in how these crimes and these horrific acts of violence were allowed to continue to take place even after they were reported. We want to continue those conversations, as well. But thank you all so much again.
AMY GOODMAN: Ryan Sorrell, we want to thank you for being with us, founder and executive editor of the Kansas City Defender, and Justice Gatson of the Reale Justice Network, a Black women-led organization in Kansas City.
Next up, with midterm elections three weeks away, anti-China rhetoric used on the campaign trail linked to hate crimes against Asian Americans. We’ll look at a new film, Rising Against Asian Hate. Stay with us.