The first time Kansas City filmmaker Jon Brick responded to a homicide scene, he said he couldn’t bring himself to film what he was witnessing.
“It shook me up a little bit,” he said. “I had never seen that kind of chaos, you know, police everywhere, the primal screams of the family, they’re falling to the ground with grief. I had brought my camera with me, but I actually couldn’t film because I didn’t know what would be the right way to portray the people without being exploitative.”
About four years ago, Brick met a woman in Kansas City named Rosilyn Temple. She was a grass roots activist, involved with founding the Kansas City Missouri chapter of Mothers in Charge, whose son was murdered. Temple was also working with the Kansas City Police Department to bridge the gap between homicide investigators and the community.
“I actually met Rosilyn through my mother,” Brick said, adding his mother reached out to Temple after hearing her story and offered to help set up a 501(c)(3). Brick said his mother asked him to meet Temple and do a short promotional video for the nonprofit.
“So, I met Rosilyn and did kind of a pre-interview with her and her story just blew me away,” he said. “She talked for 45 minutes and I was almost in tears … and I knew that this was more than just a little promotional video, this was a documentary. So I kind of took a leap of faith and said, ‘This is a story that needs to be heard.’”
The result was “Uncommon Allies,” a documentary that will be screened in Cedar Rapids on Saturday at Coe College.
While making the film, Brick said he followed Temple to homicide scenes where she would work with families of people killed and connect them to the case investigators.
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Marion Police Chief Joseph McHale was in his 21st year at the Kansas City Police Department when Temple began working with police. He left the department as a major about five years later for the Marion job.
When he met Temple in Kansas City, McHale was a department captain, division commander and the project manager of the city’s newly founded Kansas City No Violence Alliance, which involved “partnering with a research institution and trying to reorganize the police department to fight violent crime in a cohesive manner,” he said.
“At that time, we had a homicide rate that we could never get below 100 a year, ever, and it hadn’t been below 100 murders since the 1960s,” McHale said. “So the goal of the No Violence Alliance was to implement some strategies that would hopefully curb the violence we were seeing in the city.”
It was around that time Temple began coming to homicide scenes.
“She began to develop what we call a warm handoff,” McHale said. “She’d go to the victims at a scene — and of course they are distraught, they don’t know what to do and they looking at their dead loved one laying on the ground — and Rosilyn would comfort them and then she would introduce those victims to the investigators. She’d tell them, ‘Hey, I want you to meet somebody, this is detective so-and-so from the police department. He’s going to help you through this process, and I’ll be there for you, too.’”
The impact was profound, McHale said.
“When you have somebody who is advocating positively for the police — saying, hey, they’re here to help you and this is the process — the benefit of having someone like that working with you is immense,” he said. “She’d been there, her son was murdered, she can relate to what they are going through, she can build those relationships.”
Temple’s son, Antonio “Pee Wee” Thompson, was found dead in his apartment in 2011, killed on his 26th birthday. Since then, Temple has become a crusader in her community, offering support to mothers of murdered children and fighting to quell the violence that was plaguing the community.
In her son’s death, Temple found her mission.
“She made it her life’s calling,” McHale said. “She was struggling with her son’s death of course, and she needed a mission — she needed something to do.”
Every homicide scene Temple responded to, Brick said he was there documenting her work, and through those interactions, he got to know the police.
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“I became a familiar face,” he said. “And so I started meeting with the police and started to get their side, too. I learned so much about what goes into their job, and really what I was trying to gather was the human side of what they do, and the fact that they are just doing their jobs like most other people.”
Last year, “Uncommon Allies” made its debut on the film festival circuit and was well-received, Brick said. He is now spearheading an educational tour, screening the film for schools and organizations across the country, and working toward international distribution.
At a time when gun violence has become commonplace, Brick said he hopes his film serves as a catalyst that leads to change.
“I don’t know how it’s going to get better,” he said. “I don’t know what the solution is. Violence has become more and more prevalent, it’s happening everywhere. But my hope for this film is that it will open the door to the conversations we need to have, and inspire people to take a stand, roll up their sleeves and get involved in grass roots efforts like Rosilyn’s and make a difference.”
Following the screening there will be a panel discussion with Brick, Temple and Capt. Tim Hernandez of the Kansas City Police Department, facilitated by Okpara Rice of Tanager Place.
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