When Alvin Brooks told his father that he wanted to be a police officer, his dad’s first response was, “Why do you want to get into that mess? You know how they treat us.”
Brooks was determined. He became one of Kansas City’s few black officers in 1954.
From there, over a long career in law enforcement and politics, he would also be a detective, civil rights activist, city council member, and mayor pro-tem. As he’s about to turn 86, Brooks told host Gina Kaufmann on KCUR’s Central Standard, he’s been reflecting on his life while writing his memoir.
His story starts out in Little Rock, Arkansas, where he was born to a 14-year-old mother and a 17-year-old father.
His mother had been sent to live with her elder sister in Little Rock, but she didn’t get along with her adult brother-in-law. The Brooks family, who lived across the street, let her live with them and then adopted him.
They moved to Kansas City when his adopted father killed a white man in 1933 in an argument over a moonshine still.
“It was rumored that … my dad had the best moonshine in Pulaski County,” Brooks said.
According to Brooks, the man contended that his father was stealing customers from other moonshine dealers in the county. He came to the Brooks house, firing his shotgun as he approached. Brooks’s father shot back through a thicket, killing the man. He was arrested but not charged. The sheriff, who was on the elder Brooks’s payroll, told him to get out of town.
They came to a segregated Kansas City.
When Brooks was about 10 years old, his father rented a house in what Brooks described as a poor white area off of Linwood and Brighton. After fighting with the other neighborhood boys, Brooks became friends with them.
One day, the police picked up Brooks and his friends. A neighbor had called the cops because a group of boys had thrown rocks into her backyard, almost hitting her baby and her dog. When the police brought Brooks and his friends over to the neighbor’s house, she said they had gotten the wrong group of boys.
Brooks asked if they could go home. The officers, who were white, said no, and made them get in the car. As they drove, they told Brooks’s friends that they shouldn’t be with him, calling him the n-word and saying that “whites don’t associate with them.”
They stopped at Brighton Hill and told the kids to get out. One of the officers, who had been drinking, pulled out his gun. He told Brooks that he if could run over the hill before he killed him, he’d be free.
The officer cocked his gun.