The People’s City – Reclaiming Kansas City

Protestors at City Hall on October 4, 2020. // Photo by Jim Nimmo

By Emma Gilham

People mill around the statue of Lincoln. A burst of laughter here and there cuts through the murmur of conversation. Megaphones await their champions on concrete benches. Cars slow to read the signs and take in the city of tents that sits on green government grass. The People’s City has planted itself on the front lawn of City Hall in Jackson County Kansas City, until its demands are met.

After the assault on a Black womxn named Deja, outrage spread through the already rightfully angry Black Lives Matter movement of Kansas City. Video shows the young mother being forced to the ground by a police officer onto her pregnant midsection. The officer, Officer Newton, then places his knee on Deja’s back as he handcuffs her. It can only be described as gruesome to watch. After this incident, local organizers decided to stage an occupation protest at City Hall until their demands are met by the local government. Starting on October 2, the protest has seen some opposition to its continuance and demands. The list of demands are as follows:

  • Remove Police Chief Rick Smith from his position and Officer Newton from the force
  • Remove all officers who have killed Black victims from the force.
  • Divest 50% from the KCPD budget
  • Reinvest the KCPD budget into resources that support the black community including education, healthcare, and housing.

Mayor Lucas has said the removal of Rick Smith from his position would be “superficial”. Although Lucas is very well versed in the reforms he has passed, considered radical, he fails to capture what radical change actually is. According to Merriam-Webster, radical is defined as “a root part”. The removal of an incompetent leader is the critical first step in a long road to bringing racial equity to Kansas City. The Student Government Association panel discussion on “The future of policing in Kansas City: A Conversation with Mayor Quinton Lucas” brought up the very compelling point in that the culture of KCPD must shift from a fraternity-like environment, of protecting one’s own, before any real and lasting change can happen. This starts at the top with leadership. This position change would be a promise to doing better for the Black community.

While occupying the People’s City, I have been approached and asked “Why are you here?” or “What is your goal of being here?”- it is a fair question for anyone at the People’s City as an activist to answer. The goal is to uplift, cherish, and protect Black womxn, men, and children in Kansas City. It is to not allow ourselves to accept half measures and meaningless reforms. It is sticking around for the long haul, knowing the end game, and pursuing that until you have achieved it or you are incapable. It’s knowing that there cannot be another Deja, Cameron Lamb, Ryan Stokes, Breonna Hill, Terence Bridges, Donnie Sanders, or MR until we are angry again. KCPD’s reign of terror must be ended with urgency, and we will stay dedicated, fierce, and diligent to the movement until it does.