Surrounded by tents, tables full of food, stacks of clothes, hygiene supplies and books like “The Souls of Black Folk” and “How to Be an Antiracist,” the steps of Kansas City City Hall look much different.
Protesters have occupied the steps of city hall since Oct. 2, after a video circulated on social media of a Kansas City police officer arresting and pushing his knee into the back of Deja Stallings, a nine-months pregnant woman whom he had forced to the ground.
At a press conference, KCPD representatives said a security officer called police after seeing a group of people fighting at 35th and Prospect. When officers arrived, they arrested Troy Robertson, who they said refused to leave. They said the group, including Stallings, tried to stop the arrest and that Stallings resisted arrest.
But individuals at the scene said it didn’t happen that way.
Robertson, who regularly stands near 35th and Prospect holding a sign that asks people to “HONK for Unity,” said the group was holding a prayer vigil when police officers told them to leave.
When Robertson tried to tell the officers they were having a vigil, he said one officer pushed him to the ground. When Stallings asked officers why they were arresting Robertson, he said that’s when an officer threw her to the ground.
“The only thing I can say is how come nothing gets done when they’re wrong, but when I’m wrong, I’m going to, and I get all these charges,” Robertson said at an Oct. 2 press conference. “I’m still fighting cases from last year for holding signs for peace. I’m tired.”
Robertson said his movement does not condone violence, but stops it everywhere they go.
Gwen Grant, CEO of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, said at the press conference that the incident is a clear example of the excessive force culture at KCPD under Chief Rick Smith’s leadership.
Atty. Stacy Shaw, a regular Kansas City protest leader, and one of the organizers of the city hall occupation, is also the attorney representing Stallings.
The unborn baby is already experiencing the consequences of Smith’s poor leadership, said Shaw. “She's the most innocent of all of us. She hasn't even been born yet and she's already a victim of police brutality.”
As a response, protestors say they are planning to occupy city hall until the officers who arrested Stallings and Smith are fired. They also demand the city reduce KCPD’s $273 million budget by 50% and reinvest the funds in resources that support Kansas City’s Black community, such as education, healthcare and housing.
“We're ready to ride it out until the spring, the summer, next fall,” Shaw said. “It’s looking lovely over here.”
The last time Kansas City experienced an “occupation” was 2011, when the Occupy Kansas City group occupied Penn Valley Park in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street, a movement protesting economic inequalities.
Life in the ‘People’s City’
The protestors call their camp on city hall the People’s City, saying they’re modeling exactly what they want Kansas City to look like.
Every day, protesters are peaceful and participate in political and anti-White-Supremacy education, yoga sessions and self-defense trainings.
“An occupation’s mission is simply to occupy, so while we’re occupying, we might as well give people the fundamentals for what they need to understand the occupation,” said Rachel Hudson, the People’s City’s press secretary.
The group also has security, surveillance, medics and mental health resources. Mindful of the pandemic, they also have a COVID-19 protocol with a sanitization station.
The occupiers have asked for reinforcements, since the number of protestors present throughout the day fluctuates. There have been up to 100, mostly White protesters each day, significantly fewer than the hundreds of people who showed up for marches against police brutality held in the spring.
Jalisa Davis, one of the occupiers, has protested every week since the spring. She says the number of protesters dropped quickly after police aggressively got involved.
“People were traumatized. A lot of it is, we're dealing with trauma in our own communities. And then on top of that, when we go out and we try to stand up for what’s right, the police traumatize us further,” she said.
Davis said there are mostly White people and allies there because many people of color are fearful of what could happen to them. She wants people to understand Black Rainbow and the other protest groups have bail funds and legal advocates available to help.
“I'm a teacher and a parent,” Davis said. “I am scared what the world is going to look like in a few years if we don't step up and really move for change.”
Shaw, who has also addressed the decreasing number of protesters asked people to question why they are not showing up.
At a press conference Oct. 4, Stallings, who is due Oct. 19, showed up in support of the protestors, despite being in considerable pain that limited her ability to walk and talk.
“A brave woman who is due in less than two weeks managed to walk up here after getting beat by the police,” Shaw said. “She managed to show up. So, if the person that is most impacted can show up, we can show up too.”
Residents of the People’s City are beginning to plan for their long-term occupation. They are accepting monetary donations and donated heaters, tents, and sanitary supplies. They are also asking for more protestors to join the occupation.
Donations can be made through CashApp: $BlackRainbow1619 with Occupy KC in the memo.