Kansas City currently has two occupations.
At the city hall occupation, which protesters call “The People’s City,” more than a dozen tents crowd the lawn, with posters in remembrance of Donnie Sanders, Breonna Hill and Cameron Lamb. When suited city officials walk near the occupation, the mostly White protesters chant “ase,” a Yoruba African word which means power to initiate change.
Just 10 minutes away, on 35th and Prospect, is the city’s second occupation. Next to a gas station and a bus stop, this is Troy Robertson’s occupation composed of three tents, a grill and a table.
The occupiers, many of whom are homeless, spend day and night giving donated clothing and food to anyone who needs it and hold up their signs “HONK” which stands for Helping Others Notice Kings, or “HONQ” for Helping Others Notice Queens.
Both groups refuse to leave until their demands to reform the Kansas City Police Department have been met, even though their approaches are different and so are their demands.
Calling for peace on 35th and Prospect is something Robertson has been doing since 2015, except instead of tents, it was just him, his couch and a grill.
After losing friends and family to violence, facing homelessness, and knowing many others faced the same struggles, he wanted to do something to build community.
“When you don’t have family, you build bonds with people in the streets,” said Robertson.
Protestors began occupying city hall after Robertson and nine-months pregnant Deja Stallings were forcefully arrested by police. Originally, Robertson supported the downtown occupation. Now, after spending a couple nights with them, he doesn’t want to be associated with the group.
Robertson said while he was there, the leaders talked about struggles, but never stepped foot on 35th and
Prospect, where Robertson said he has been beaten by police several times.
“I’m tired of the privileged people speaking for the unprivileged. If you ain’t been through these events, don’t speak for me. You don’t know my struggle. Just because we got the same color means nothing to me,” Robertson said at a press conference at city hall Oct. 8.
So, Robertson decided to “occupy” 35th and Prospect, where he said the violence actually happens. Robertson’s group of occupiers also made their own list of demands in partnership with nonprofit Operation Liberation. They demand:
• KCPD enact a $25,000 reward for police turning in corrupt and abusive officers.
• A “three strikes” rule for officers. After three complaints of abuse or misconduct, officers must be let go.
• Provide a photo lineup of KCPD officers, 2010 to present, so the public can identify the abusive officers.
• The Board of Police Commissioners review videos of police brutality against Troy Robertson.
• A 30% increase in Black officers on KCPD. They also demand that officers live in the community they police.
• An end to cash bail
• Close Jackson County Detention Center, where COVID-19 is running rampant.
• Create “Section 9,” a hybrid model of federal funding through section 8, but directed by and monitored by the Black community.
• KCPD reimburse Troy Robertson and Team Honk for property destroyed from three prior encampments.
• Accessible and affordable wi-fi and technology resources for the Black community.
• Kansas City Area Transportation Authority regularly refresh and update trash receptacles that spill over in Black neighborhoods.
“My demands is for the people,” Robertson said. “You don’t hear me yelling out my cash app.”