Two leaders in Topeka’s African-American community say they are talking with East Topeka residents to keep emotions in check after police officers fatally shot a black man Thursday near S.E. 3rd and Lawrence.
“There’s deep concern that another life was lost in that manner, that another young person died in the street,” said T.D. Hicks, pastor of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church. “We’re working hard, praying hard to bring closure to this.”
Lawrence police, who have taken over the investigation, said Dominique Tyrell White, 30, of Topeka, died after two Topeka police officers discharged their firearms, fatally injuring White following a disturbance in Ripley Park south of the Oakland neighborhood.
Topeka police Lt. Colleen Stuart said earlier Thursday that officers who arrived at the scene saw that White had a handgun before he was shot.
“In the process of trying to secure the firearm, the individual struggled with officers and attempted to flee,” Stuart said. “While fleeing from officers, the individual reached for the pocket containing the firearm, causing the officers to fire their weapons.”
At least one of the shots struck White’s chest as he was in the intersection of S.E. 3rd and Lawrence, authorities said. White was later pronounced dead at a Topeka hospital.
It isn’t known whether, or when, the names of the officers, who have been put on administrative leave during the investigation, will be released.
Hicks said he was at the scene of the shooting in East Topeka during most of the day and said he is working as a liaison, communicating with residents in the area and Topeka police. He said he believes the department has been as transparent as they could be directly following the incident, but additional information will be needed at some point in the near future.
“I’m able to express some of the concerns of the residents there,” Hicks said. “Anytime you get half of the story, it adds fuel to the fire.”
“We’re trying to create a space for folks to be able to express what they think without destruction,” said Delmar White, pastor of New Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church. “This is a powder keg issue.”
White and Hicks have been involved in past race-related community events, including one at White’s church in August 2016 that ended abruptly after angry participants critical of law enforcement drowned out remarks from Topeka’s former police Chief James Brown.
Hicks said the distrust between African-Americans and law enforcement is a systemic problem nationally. However, he said that locally he is telling people the investigation and legal proceedings need to be allowed to run their course before assumptions are made and tensions rise.
“We’re waiting for the information,” Hicks said he has told residents of East Topeka. “Let’s trust this process.”
White said he is “cautiously optimistic” emotions won’t get out of hand while the case is being investigated.
“I also know the potential is there” for problems, he said. “I know folks are angry. There’s a lot of unrest and tension in our country.”
As chaplains for the Topeka Police Department, Hicks said he and Delmar White have worked diligently to create a foundation of cooperation with the department and the Shawnee County district attorney to keep the potential for problems after a police shooting at a minimum.
“We’re not waiting for a tragedy to happen to build relationships,” Hicks said. “We have that door that is open.”
Contact reporter Angela Deines at (785) 295-1143 or @AngelaDeines on Twitter.