KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Activists who were outraged when a white Kansas City police officer knelt on the back of a Black pregnant woman during an arrest last week have set up camp outside City Hall and say they plan to stay until the officer and police chief are fired.
They also want the city to redirect 50% of the police department’s budget to social services aimed at the city’s Black community.
The unusual protest entered its fifth day Tuesday, with about 20 tents on the lawn and a well-organized “people’s city” that includes food, sanitation products, an arts area, a library of racial injustice-related books and private security.
Anyone who enters the area is required to undergo coronavirus-related health checks and wear a mask, and organizers are watching closely so no alcohol, drugs, sexual indiscretions or even littering occurs.
A statue of Abraham Lincoln is covered with pictures and names of Black people who have died in confrontations with police and demands that police Chief Rick Smith be fired.
Several civil rights organizations have long demanded Smith’s firing or resignation and those calls intensified after clashes between police and protesters during social justice demonstrations this summer sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Smith has said he has no intention of resigning and the police department has declined to say whether the officer involved in the arrest is facing discipline or being investigated.
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters-Baker’s office is reviewing the arrest to determine if any charges against the officer are warranted, and has asked the police department to investigate it, a spokesman for her office said Tuesday.
An average of 75 to 100 people participate in the protest every day, said attorney Stacy Shaw, one of the primary organizers. Only 100 people are allowed on the site at once.
“We’re at the seat of government and we’re having a social justice occupation that hasn’t been seen in Kansas City,” Shaw said. “People are excited that we are taking such drastic action and sticking to it. So we’re not just here for 15 minutes or a couple hours, that we are actually sticking to this and demanding justice.”
The city currently has no plans to evict the campers, a spokeswoman for Mayor Quinton Lucas said. The city council will discuss the situation at a meeting Thursday.
Shaw said some council members have visited the site and expressed support for the action. Other than a confrontation when police tried to evict them after the tents were first set up Friday night, the protesters have not had any conflicts with police or city officials.
The occupation was sparked by the arrest of Deja Stallings, 25, on Wednesday during a memorial event at an east Kansas City intersection that has been the scene of protests and civil rights actions for years. It drew attention after videos of the arrest circulated on social media.
Police said officers were called to the scene by a business owner who reported a fight. They said Stallings, who is nine months pregnant, interfered when officers tried to arrest a man who refused to leave and she was put on the ground when she resisted arrest. She was issued a municipal summons for hindering an arrest.
Ryan Sorrell, of Black Rainbow, said Stallings remains the central focus of the protests but activists also are tired of city officials not responding to complaints about how police treat the city’s Black community.
“We’re not going to go anywhere,” Sorrell said. “They don’t want to arrest us. They don’t have the moral authority right now. They’re going to look bad if they do. This is an organized, peaceful, friendly community and they have no legal reason to remove us.”