Heart Village Mobile Home Park Residents Demand

Compensation From Jackson County

Nyonu Branch-Watkins

7/28/2021- Kansas City, Missouri

Residents of the Heart Village Mobile Home Park, with support from KC Tenants, have released a list of demands to be compiled with by Jackson County. The demands were created following notice that the residents will be required to vacate their homes by February 2021 in order for the property to be used as the site for the construction of a new jail. The residents released the following press release, which includes the list of demands for Jackson County.

Over 55 residents of Heart Village Mobile Home Park released a set of demands on June 28, seeking compensation from Jackson County as the county advances plans to purchase the land beneath their homes for the site of the new county jail. The residents were informed last week that they will all be displaced from their homes by February 2022.

The Heart Village Mobile Home Park demands can be found here. KC Tenants is supporting residents to continue collecting signatures through the end of this month.

The residents issued the following statement:

“We are residents of Heart Village Mobile Home Park. After months of confusion and miscommunication, we have been informed that we will be displaced so that Jackson County can build a jail on the land where we currently reside in our homes. The County failed to make any real attempt to engage us, until the town hall forum last week. We were told that they would provide meager rental assistance to compensate for our trouble. That is not good enough.”

Their demands include:

  • A meeting between the residents and County Executive Frank White, County Administrator Troy Schulte, and County legislators before the end of August.

  • Full rent cancellation for the period between September 2021 and February 2022, when the County will have possession of the property.

  • Full compensation packages for each resident, including written confirmation from the County by the end of September.

  • A cash payment of at least $10,000, in addition to individual compensation packages, unrestricted in its use (i.e. not a rent assistance voucher).

RoNisha Rogers is the designated spokesperson for the Heart Village residents. KC Tenants plans to join RoNisha and her neighbors for more signature collection on Thursday evening at 5pm.

Published on: 7/29/2021

Civil Rights Groups Call for DOJ Civil Rights Investigation into KCPD

Andrei Stoica and Brynn Fitzsimmons

7/28/2021- Kansas City, Missouri

Police Chief Rick Smith at the July 27 Board of Police Commissioners meeting in Kansas City, Missouri.

Photo by Andrei Stoica

Two letters were submitted from local civil rights groups this week, calling on Attorney General Merrick B. Garland to open a Department of Justice Civil Rights Investigation into the Kansas City, Missouri Police Department.

It's Time 4 Justice submitted a letter requesting a Patterns and Practices Investigation and detailing what they termed, "narrative on some of the most egregious actions of the KCPD."

"There is a clear pattern of policing in Kansas City, MO that demonstrates horrendous practices of “excessive force, biased policing and other unconstitutional practices” from the police department," their letter said. "To facilitate with establishing trust for all community members of Kansas City, we implore you to open this Patterns and Practices Investigation as soon as possible."

The group also called out the Kansas City Fraternal Order of the Police, explaining, "Further, the Fraternal Order of Police union that protects the KCPD has made it quite evident that they have a lack of regard for doing the right thing by continuing to cover up police misconduct."

The letter was supported by Getting to the Heart of the Matter, a local group of faith leaders who had worked with KCPD to "establish trust and reduce violence." Several members of the group have recently begun to speak out against the department, resulting in apparent backlash from KCPD.

The group has also opened their own complaints collection portal, where anyone who has witnessed or been a victim of police misconduct can submit a complaint. Complaints can be submitted anonymously.

A local coalition of civil rights groups, including the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Urban League, More Squared, Ad Hoc Group Against Crime, El Centro and many other groups, also issued a 15-page letter to the attorney general, also requesting a civil rights investigation. The letter was released Monday, July 26.

Gwen Grant of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City said the groups had begun looking into KCPD practices in 2019 following the killing of Terrence Bridges. She said that as the groups investigated that particular incident, they uncovered more and more issues with the police department.

The request was also supported with a letter from Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters’ Baker. “There is a human and civil rights crisis in the city of Kansas City Missouri, and in Jackson County which has been longstanding and has caused great suffering, affliction, death, grief to our communities,” said Vernon Howard of SCLC at a press conference on Monday. “The core of those human and civil rights violations of our community lie within the Kansas City Police Department law enforcement and its leader Chief Rick Smith. We stand here today because we are left with no other recourse.”

Howard cited the state’s lack of intervention in public outcry over policing in Kansas City. Grant said the civil rights groups is hoping for a complete investigation of the department, similar to what was completed in Ferguson, Missouri. She said the letter aimed to provide a jumping off point for this type of investigation.

“Every single layer of operations in Kansas City Police Department must be investigated and laid bare so that we have accountability for the injustices that we have endured for far too long,” Grant said.

To see a version of this story that includes the full text of the available letters, click here.

Published on: 7/28/2021

“They Exploited and Extorted Us”: Homeless Union Says City Failed in Support

Brynn Fitzsimmons

7/21/2021- Kansas City, Missouri

Qadhafi, leader of the Kansas City Homeless Union, meets with Mayor Quinton Lucas on April 5, 2021.

Photo by Andrei Stoica

“I’m tired of being a program…I ain’t gonna be nobody’s program,” said Qadhafi, leader of the Kansas City Homeless Union, in an interview on Sunday, June 27. He spoke at that time of the failure of the city’s hotel program, which was meant to connect houseless individuals with services and permanent housing. However, as the hotel program came to a close and more permanent solutions continued to be tied up in committee, many unhoused leaders, including Qadhafi, expressed frustration. “Everything is a distraction—except what the fuck we asked,” he said.

KCHU’s initial demands were homes, water, jobs and a seat at the table in city decisions regarding houselessness. Qadhafi said none of those have happened. July 15 was the last date of the hotel program for unhoused individuals in Kansas City.

The Finance, Governance and Public Safety Committee met Wednesday, July 21 at 10 a.m., and considered three proposals: one which would solicit Requests for Proposals for possible locations that could be converted into various housing solutions; one to create a solicitation process to increase current temporary services, such as shelters; and one which would allow the City Manager to enter into contract with Verge, a Pallet Community, to create pallet homes. All three proposals were held.

However, houseless individuals have pushed back against the continued expansion of city programs. Allie Stewart, who testified Wednesday, took issue with the solicitation of more proposals for services for the houseless—without that money going to the houseless.

“This is money was allocated for homeless people, not for everybody to jump on the bandwagon and see if they can bring into the fold so by the time you will get around to us, we there might be some left, hopefully,” she said.

City Council members emphasized the need for accountability from service providers as well as service providers for varying needs, and hoped the proposed legislation would enable new solutions to be brought forward.

“I look at this as an opportunity for us to follow our city process and establish an RFP…and really make informed decision about the best way to move forward,” said Councilwoman Rayna Parks-Shaw.

“Our housing needs are not just one,” said City Manager Brian Platt. “It’s not just one income level. It’s not just one type of person or one type of need, and we would like to leave it open to see what’s out there. It could be an old hotel that could be converted into housing. It could be a school. It could be a healthcare facility. It could be, you know, vacant housing. It could be a lot of things. And this will help us accept those proposals and then determine how much funding we’re going to need to set aside for that.”

Community Criticizes City’s Slow Response

All three items were held in committee, with Chairwoman Catherine Shields saying at the outset that she did not plan for the committee to take action until there was further information.

Public comment—which was initially limited to one minute until the public protested and Shields changed the limit to two minutes—commented on the city’s slowness.

“There's no urgency,” said Qadhafi, who is one of the leaders of the Kansas City Homeless Union as well as a leader with KC Tenants. “I’d like the city council to go and become homeless. Live in your car until the decision is made, but don't live in your luxury as house and make decisions.”

“We have a chairwoman by the name of Catherine Shields that seems to hold back and continue to delay, nothing but a change and direction in our city,” said Anton Washington, who is on Mayor Quinton Lucas’ Homeless Taskforce. He also reminded the committee that, with the eviction moratorium expiring July 31, housing insecurity and houselessness will only get worse.

Others, like Reverend Ester Holzendorf, pointed out that the city has known about the urgency of the problem for quite some time, given that 2021 started with the news of the death of Sixx (Scott Eicke), a houseless man who died of exposure on New Year’s Day. “Somebody froze to death,” Holzendorf reminded the committee. “Somebody died, for lack of whatever we can stop it. And we can do something about it and there is the urgency of now.”

Hotel Program and Addressing Houselessness

The program came following discussions between city officials and unhoused individuals, including the Kansas City Homeless Union, who occupied the grounds outside City Hall from the end of January up until the start of the hotel programs in March. Camp 6ixx, a houseless camp in Westport, had similar promises made, and many individuals there also went to hotels in March.

However, as the hotel program end date came closer, many KCHU members periodically returned to City Hall front lawn. They said they and other unhoused Kansas City residents were promised more than a temporary fix. A tiny home initiative, connection to wraparound services and other support were all part of what Kansas City Homeless Union Qadhafi said they were promised. Furthermore, KCHU has said they will take steps, including returning to City Hall, if needed, to get their initial demands met: homes, water, jobs and a seat at the table in decisions about houselessness.

Qadhafi said many involved in the hotel program “proved to be treacherous when money got involved.” He said many houseless individuals never received the wraparound services they were promised, and that they felt mistreated at the hotels.

“Feeding us was not in their so-called program, so I was personally setting different people to feed us,” he said.

“They was treating us like third-class citizens,” he said. “A lot of people left on their own.”

Elijah X, who stayed at two of the hotels during the initiative, said houseless guests were told they couldn’t use the pool or access food the same way other guests could. He said he was told, “It’s for paying customers, and if we do that, we’re disturbing them.”

Hotel Program Ends; Sweeps Restart

With the hotel program ending, several camps have reemerged, including Camp 6ixx. The camp, which is located in Westport, was swept Sunday, July 18, with video showing Kansas City Waste Management throwing camp items into trash trucks. Residents were taken to Penn Valley Park, where Midwest Homeless Collective worked to gather new supplies and donations to replace what had been lost in the sweep.

“How are we supposed to get jobs if we can’t sleep anywhere?” said one woman in the video, who said she is currently living in her car. “These are people’s homes. We just bought these tents last night, and you’re throwing them away?”

However, many houseless individuals have serious reservations about returning to shelters, and recount stories such as being turned away due to health issues.

Houseless individuals are also currently not allowed to return to City Hall lawn, where KCHU camped before the hotel program, due to issues with the City Hall Parking Garage. Several options are being considered by the city to fix the garage, with $5 million being the lowest cost option. Qadhafi said he was also arrested for allegedly trespassing on City Hall front lawn as houseless individuals began to return there earlier this month.

“They criminalized us,” he said. “They done turned us into criminals for being homeless.”

Several individuals gave testimony at Wednesday’s committee hearing regarding the violences of sweeps. Winifred Jamieson, who is also one of the leaders of Friday Night Protest, said she’d seen many of her neighbors’ homes swept.

“I used vacation time yesterday to pack up and relocate ten of my neighbors from their homes to Independence Avenue, Paseo because…the city evicted them with less than 24-hour notice,” she said. “In any other circumstance that action eviction would be illegal, but because my neighbors live in tents, they have no rights. (They’re told) either move or lose…their few belongings they have and be taken to jail. I don't think any of you understand the trauma every sweep causes our houses friends it is an act of violence.”

“They Value Property Over People.”

As concerns about location continue to come up in both full council meetings and committee meetings, Qadafhi said talk of houseless individuals or tiny home communities impacting property value ignore the humanity of houseless people.

“If everybody’s [saying] ‘not in my backyard,’ then there’s nowhere,” he said. “We depreciate the property value because there’s no human value.”

“They value property over people,” he said. “We homeless everywhere; we ain’t just homeless in the 3rd district.”

Qadhafi and other unhoused leaders also criticized the Lotus Group, the umbrella organization that has managed the hotel programs. City council raised questions in previous meetings regarding the money spent for Lotus’ services. Qadhafi, however, said, “The Lotus Group has no interest in us…had we had a seat at the table, the table would have include KC Tenants or some other group that’s been here,” he said. Instead, he said Lotus Group was underinformed and underequipped, and other groups, like the Greater Kansas City Coalition to End Homelessness, “get paid to do stuff for the homeless.”

“We could have took $5 million and bought houses that’s already ready,” he said when discussing the amount the city spent for Lotus Group. “It’s a feel-good smokescreen.”

“It isn’t what they promised would be after this,” Jimmy, another core organizer with KCHU, said. “They promised that housing would be after this.”

KCHU is collecting funds via CashApp at $hugyohoodinc. MHC is collecting funds via their Facebook page.

Published on: 7/21/2021

“This Was an Execution”: Community Demands Justice for Malcolm Johnson

Brynn Fitzsimmons

7/10/2021- Kansas City, Missouri

Troy Robertson and others hold signs at an event for Malcolm Johnson at Mill Creek Park, Kansas City, Missouri on June 12.

Photo by Andrei Stoica

The demands for justice for Malcolm Johnson continue in Kansas City, Missouri with activists planning to hold an event on Johnson’s birthday, August 14. The event will be held near 63rd and Prospect where Johnson was killed by a KCPD officer on March 25, 2021. The investigation from the Missouri Highway Patrol was sent to the Jackson County Prosecutor at the end of June. The prosecutor’s office has not yet released a decision on whether it will charge any officers involved in the incident, and no date for a decision has been announced at this time.

On Saturday, June 12, protesters, community members and friends of Malcolm Johnson gathered in Mill Creek Park to demand justice in Johnson’s case. The protest came just a few days after the Missouri Highway Patrol announced they had finished their investigation of the police killing of Malcolm Johnson and had turned the case over to state investigators. Johnson was fatally shot by KCPD officers on March 25 during an arrest related to an aggravated assault case.

Per early media reports, KCPD reported that two officers had tried to arrest Johnson, had pulled a gun on the officers, and had shot one of them in the leg.

Since the release of several videos of the incident, however, numerous community members have pointed out at press conferences and via social media that, as Sheryl Ferguson of It’s Time 4 Justice pointed out in her voiceover of the cellphone recorded video of the incident, “The officer started shooting and immediately recoiled her arm at the same time that the other officer screamed ‘God damn it.’ The cop shot the cop, and then they shot Malcolm in the head two times. And then the Missouri State Highway Patrol substantiated the Kansas City Police Department’s lie. This was an execution.”

Protesters—including Troy Robertson of Team HONK—spoke of Johnson’s case as connected to the cases of other local victims of police shootings, including Donnie Sanders, Ryan Stokes, Terrance Bridges and Cameron Lamb.

Kymberly Davidson, who attended the June 12 protest and said she is a friend of the family, said she met Johnson last 4th of July, when they were at a family gathering and took turns watching the kids.

“Malcolm was a cool guy,” she said. “He was a good father. He was a good friend.”

She described the fear that Johnson’s killing has caused for his children, and said the children are afraid of being shot by police, too. “You have another child without a father,” she said.

She said she found out about Johnson’s death from the family on the same night it happened. “The story I was hearing was not the same story in the media,” she said, noting that early media reports described a “shootout” between Johnson and police.

“Come to find out, that was not the case,” Davidson said. She described seeing the videos released since Johnson’s death, which show shots being fired while Johnson is face down on the ground, with several officers on top of him. “Why does it take four officers to shoot him twice in the back of the head?” Davidson said.

“This is not an open and shut case,” said Pastor Darron Edwards during a June 3 press conference from faith leaders, who received three videos from the community of the incident, all of which appeared to contradict KCPD’s initial reports on the incident. “Let me tell you, Kansas City, when I look at the video? It looks like one officer shot another officer, then shot the victim twice in the head. The police can clear this up for me by telling us what really happened. We say we want Kansas City to be a safe city in every zip code, and we believe in policing—I want this on the record—but we don’t believe in this kind of policing in Kansas City.”

He also questioned why officers are still allowed to return to work while the investigation is ongoing. He said faith leaders turned over video they had received to Highway Patrol, “so that it can be included, not in an open and shut case, but in an ongoing investigation.”

Dr. Emanuel Cleaver III reiterated that while faith leaders are not anti-police, but also said, “There is a clear problem in Kansas City—it’s an ongoing problem. And that’s that there is an ongoing disconnect between police and the community, in particular, Black and brown communities. The question should be asked: why weren’t the videos handed over to law enforcement? Why were the videos handed over to us? And the question can be answered easily: it is because the community does not trust police,” he said. “We have to start with the top and work our way down. That’s the only way we’re going to really bring about change.”

“Kansas City, this is a moment for change,” Edwards said. “A change is going to come. This is what we believe.”

The “Justice for Malcolm” event will be held at 6 p.m. on August 14, starting at Troost Ave. and Meyer Blvd. and will include a march to the BP station on 63rd and Prospect.

Published on: 7/10/2021

KCMO BOPC Meeting Tuesday Expected to Continue Policing Conversation

Brynn Fitzsimmons

6/14/2021- Kansas City, Missouri

6/14/ 2021 Update: Nathan Garrett, who served on the Board of Police Commissioners announced his resignation on June 14. Garrett, who voiced his opposition to the reallocation, said his resignation was due to a "change in residency." He sent his resignation on Friday, June 11.

Kansas City, Missouri Fraternal Order of Police president Brad Lemon in attendance at the Northland Town Hall in May.

Photo by Andrei Stoica

On Tuesday, June 15, the Kansas City, Missouri Board of Police Commissioners will meet for their first regularly scheduled meeting since the board met May 24 for a special closed session and voted to pursue litigation to block Mayor Quinton Lucas’ new legislation to reallocate police funding.

The first of the two ordinances reallocate $42,282,444 of the Kansas City Police department budget to the Community Services and Prevention Account of KCPD, which is intended to support community initiatives and prevention programs. The second allocates an additional $3 million to the Community Services and Prevention account. It authorizes the City Manager to execute an agreement with the Board of Police Commissioners of Kansas City, Missouri in a total amount not to exceed $45,282,444.00 for community engagement, outreach, prevention, intervention, and other public services including recruitment efforts for a new police academy class. The motions passed KCMO City Council 9-4 on May 20.

The BOPC motion to pursue litigation against the ordinance initially passed 3-1, with Lucas voting no and Tolbert absent, at a May 24 meeting. An additional meeting held May 28 added Tolbert to the list of yes votes, resulting in a 4-1 pass.

A May 28 press release from the mayor said the city “reluctantly embraces” the litigation efforts from the BOPC: “While the Board’s lawsuit represents a call for the status quo, under the status quo, we have lost kids like LeGend Taliaferro. Under the status quo, two people were killed on our streets just yesterday. Folks, we can’t keep doing the same thing over and over again. The status quo is killing us,” the release reads. “As I’ve said before, Kansas City, reluctantly embraces this litigation to shed light on and strike down a system that for generations has been unfair, unconstitutional, and, sadly, unsuccessful."

Gwendolyn Grant of the Urban League has also filed a motion to “intervene in the lawsuit filed by the Board of Police Commissioners in order to assert my constitutional rights as a Kansas City taxpayer and as an African American,” she said in a press briefing on Monday, June 14. She described the BOPC lawsuit as an “attempt to cast off all limits on its ability to take Kansas City’s tax dollars (that) violates the Missouri constitution.”

“This is about taxation without representation. We are taking this fight to the ourt to seek remedy for decades and decades, decades upon decades of injustice,” she said.

Failure of the Status Quo

The mayor’s comments on the failure of the status quo were far from the only sentiments to that effect in recent weeks. At the last BOPC meeting on May 11, during the public comment portion, Tierra Cox—sister of Terrence Bridges, who was killed by a KCPD officer, said her brother was never even given a command to stop before the officer shot him.

“How does KCPD feel having so much blood on their hands? Because how does y’all sleep at night?” she asked. “How do y’all keep this same police on the force, this same chief, when people keep getting killed?”

“I don’t see no good intentions from the police,” she said. “Oh, because you wear a uniform you get the right to kill my brother? No. You don’t got the right—you not God.”

Other speakers, like Odessa Andre of More Squared, tied the issue directly to Police Chief Rick Smith. “Chief Smith has continuously slandered the oath of this force,” she said. “The integrity…of KCPD is rancid.”

Khadijah Hardaway of Justice for Wyandotte also gave public comment. “My soul drug me here,” she said. “My soul said to me that I do not know you, Chief Rick Smith. I do not know you, Pastor Edwards. I do not know you Brad Lemon. I do not know you, Jean Peters Baker. I do not know you, Don Parson. But I do know that you have covered up corruption for far too long.”

“It’s time for you to go, because there are too many Black people…that I continue to see die at your hands with no accountability, with no transparency,” she said. She demanded the police release the videos of the killing of Malcolm Johnson from March 25, at 63rd and Prospect. Local faith leaders later released three videos they had been given by members of the community, noting that those videos contradicted initial police reports.

Sheryl Ferguson of It’s Time 4 Justice also spoke about the lack of accountability or responsiveness from Smith. “It makes me wonder where is the common sense of hearing all the concerns from so many, civil rights and activist organizations, church groups from various religious backgrounds and many citizens who have constantly posed how concerned they are if this Chief is the right person for this position, for this city,” she said.

“Instead of hearing real conversations to speak with these groups and talk to ways to improve his actions, we have only heard the arrogance of ‘I am not going to resign or retire.’ Never asking what can I do better. Instead we get double talk in an answer of what policing model he uses,’” she said. In reference to two common policing strategies, she added, “Unless he is using the Guardian in the North and West regions of the city, but we can tell he is using the Warrior in the areas where the people I care about live. The Bible says a double minded man is unstable in ALL his ways. How much more time and taxpayer money will you continue to waste?”

Mayor’s Reallocation Ordinances Explained

Melesa Johnson, special advisor to Lucas, explained the legislation this way, “First and foremost, I do want to be clear that this is not an effort to defund the police department. We value our officers and the services that they provide to the city. But what this does is it reroutes the money back to the police department with certain parameters on how that money can be spent.”

She said the legislation is in response to the rising crime rate, which has been a longstanding concern for city leadership. “We know from these past five years, we had a constant uptick a crime,” she said. “We've been writing blank checks to the police department. We increased their funding by $8 million last year. We gave them $3 million more this year for a police academy class. All we want to be sure is that city council has some say and how that money is deployed.”

One of the issues, she said, is that city council does not have direct oversight of the police department, since the Board of Police Commissioners, with the exception of Lucas, is appointed by the governor rather than elected by the people. “Since we are the only city in the entire state of Missouri that does not have local control of its police department, this is the only mechanism that we have to have some sort of say on how that money is spent, for example, increased prevention services,” she explained. “We love our officers. We trust our officers. We just want to have some sort of say like every other city in the state of Missouri, and how our taxpayer dollars are being spent to make the city safer.”

Public Hearings Over Reallocation

Several public hearings have been held regarding the reallocation ordinances. One, held May 27 by Northland councilmembers Kevin O’Neill, Heather Hall, Teresa Loar and Dan Fowler.

Speakers said they were afraid to go to the Plaza because of lack of police and stressed the need for “law and order,” claiming the reallocation was reducing funding to police. One speaker, Sandra, said, “We don’t need social justice; we need rule of law where everyone is responsible for their actions.”

President Brad Lemon also spoke, claiming the department was underfunded and that the reallocation of police budget into community programs, even with the additional funding for the police academy class, would further reduce police officers.

“We’re not going to call social workers to protect this city,” he said.

But therapists and social workers like one speaker, who identified herself as Anna, disagreed. She said that, given that “where poverty exists, simultaneously crime increases because of lack of resources,” that the reallocation may help.

“My understanding is that the reallocation of the funding is into community programming for prevention of violent crime, mental health, conflict resolution, different preventative measures, such as education,” she continued.

However, she was not able to finish her statement due to interruptions from the crowd, who eventually shouted at her to the point that she was forced to leave the podium before her time was up.

“I want to hear everybody. That’s what we do up here,” Councilman Dan Fowler said in response to the incident. However, similar responses met others who spoke against the police department or in favor of the Mayor’s ordinances.

Johnson—who came on behalf of Lucas, who could not attend—said in an interview following the meeting that while Northland council members in particular have said they were upset by the same-day passage of Lucas’ ordinances, that same-day adoptions are within the realm of city procedure and policy.

Another meeting, held June 5 by The Kansas City Call, included comments from Lucas and other city councilmembers who had voted in favor of the ordinance.

“You've heard a lot of distortions, right? Some folks have said, ‘Oh, this is defunding the police?’” Lucas said. “Well, as I see the ordinance, and we got to look at it closely, there's a whole bunch of money that can only go to the police department. All we want to be able to do is say at the end of the year, did this help work on efforts relating to prevention and community services? Does this help folks work with our neighborhoods?”

Upcoming BOPC Meetings

The regular BOPC meeting on Tuesday, June 15 will begin at 9:30 a.m. and will include a public comment section. Other upcoming meetings include an Audit Committee Meeting on Friday, June 25 at 10 a.m. and a hearing related to disciplinary proceedings for sergeant Gregory Satter on Friday, July 23 at 9 a.m.

Published on: 6/14/2021

Friday Night Protest Holds One Year Memorial Event

Brynn Fitzsimmons

6/4/2021- Kansas City, Missouri

People kneeling and holding a banner with the names of victims of police shootings in front of the Kansas City Missouri Police Department at the one year anniversary of Friday Night Protest.

Photo by Andrei Stoica

On Friday, June 4, at 6 p.m., the leaders of the Friday Night Protest held a one year memorial event to honor the lives of over 150 people who have been killed by Kansas City Police Department Officers. The event also commemorated a year since the protest--which has met weekly outside KCPD Headquarters--has been going.

Steve Young and Winifred Jamieson, the leaders of the Friday Night Protest, have stated that their protest aims to hold space for victims of KCPD officer violence, “saying the names of the local victims of police violence,” as Young said on Friday. They have also demanded the removal of Chief Rick Smith, greater accountability for officers and the defunding of KCPD.

Friday’s event included speeches from the families of a number of people who were killed by KCPD officers.

Cameron Lamb

One of Cameron Lamb’s sisters, who did not share her name, said she felt it was important to talk about her brother as a person expressly because who he was as a person is often glossed over:

“I would just like to talk about (Cameron) as a person because I feel like since all of this happened, a lot of the things that have been in the media haven't really reflected him in a good light. Like they don't usually talk about the good things about a person, they immediately get shot by the police, you get killed by the police, they immediately start putting out bad things about you, like it was your fault that you got murdered.

But my brother, he loves people, he loves people. And he was such a comedian. He will always tell jokes, and we will always have a good time, every time we were together. He was a great father. He had three boys, he has nieces, and he has a niece and nephews that he was always doing stuff with. And he was always around. And I just feel so sad that the kids don't get to experience him anymore. It's been really hard for our family, just knowing the type of person that he was, the things that we had to go through.

I just really wish that we could just help hold the police officers accountable for when they do something wrong. And they shouldn't get all of this time to get a story straight, and have time to figure out what's going on. And just like, if any citizen wants to murder somebody, they will get arrested immediately. And they will put them in the interrogation room, and they would be interrogating them immediately after they were arrested. Just like you're gonna do a drug test and do all of that stuff on dead bodies, you need to do the same thing with the police officers, because they do more drugs and do more bad things than the citizens that they claim they are here to protect.

So I just want everybody, please continue to support our family because it's not over. The officer he was indicted. But he hasn't been. He hasn't been convicted. He hasn't been convicted yet. And he needs to be convicted.”

Ryan Stokes

Narene Stokes, Ryan’s mother, also shared her son’s story:

“Okay, first of all, I would like to apologize to you, and ask for your forgiveness. Because this is my very first time here. I would like for you to accept my apology and forgive me, because I don't know where I've been. Good job in calling Ryan's name out. And that's all good. Because I'm here for you. And with you for the same reason. Thank you.

Okay, Ryan was killed on July 28, 2013. He was 24 years old, down here at Power and Light to have himself a nice time, as most young men and young ladies do. And then there is some kind of confusion, some kind of altercation. And they say, Ryan had a gun, wouldn't put it down. So they had to shoot him. But it was a lie.

You know, any mother's gonna go view her son, my only son. Now this is my baby boy. They are gonna view him, and he's shot in the back. How do you call that justifiable? When you shoot a man in the back and he don't have a gun.

So it's gone on eight years for me. Eight years since Ryan's been killed. Murdered. It's just not right. It's not right. How they're killing our young men? And think they can get away with it. And I mean, "they" when I say "they", I mean the police. I mean, the mayor of this city. I mean, the governor. This is happening right here in Kansas City. And they ain't trying to do a doggone thing about it. They just want us to be silent. They want us to sweep things under the rug. And we're not going to do that. We see now; we're standing here for a reason, right? We want justice, we need change.”

Donnie Sanders

Reshonda Sanders, the sister of Donnie Sanders, talked about how her brother was killed during a traffic stop. Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker recently said she would not press charges against the officer involved.

“My brother did not deserve to die. No matter how they try and portray him or make him look like he was the bad guy. He was only trying to drive home. That was a you know, one thing I just don't understand.

I still will never understand how he was going southbound on Prospect, and the officer was coming northbound on Prospect, and what made him make a U-turn to come after my brother. I don't know. He literally made a U-turn and followed him and just chased him.

My brother's scared you know? I don't understand, you know, like, he jumped out the truck and ran. I don't understand it. The opposite side was in any type of harm while my brother run in front of you. (He was) caught with a gun...but (he was) running from (the officer).

...How is it that they can hear him supposedly saying what he was saying (on the dash cam footage) if that my brother was killed around the corner? I don't understand that. But you said you ain't got no evidence (to prosecute).”

Travis Griffin

Travis Griffin’s uncle, who did not give his name, also spoke about the injustice and lack of accountability in policing in Kansas City:

“I've never seen anywhere in the world where taxpayers pay to die like in Kansas City, Missouri. On January 8 2018 my nephew was shot and killed by KCPD. He made a flaw one day, and he was a good kid. His flaw was a fatal one: he ran from police. That encounter cost him six shots in the back. One in the arm, one in the leg. When the witness account said that he was not a threat to KCPD, video evidence said the same. Yet still nothing has come of this officer who shot my nephew in the back six times and killing him. It's been tough for my little sister to even speak up.

I just don't know what to say. It's terrible, tragic. And it's got to come to an end. You know, we all love each other while we're here and tell each other often. Because in the blink of an eye, it can all be over with. You know, my nephew was a good kid, but that one flaw was a fatal one.”

Faith Leaders Express Support

Several faith leaders also spoke at Friday’s rally, praising the efforts of Friday Night Protest and calling for greater accountability and change in the Kansas City Police Department.

“What you've done has made a difference, what you've done where it has made a difference, and it cannot be unnoticed, it cannot be covered up. Now they did it, they did it because of some lives, some brothers’ and sisters’ lost or taken when they shouldn't have been, but at the hands of KCPD,” said Reverend Nia Chandler of St. Mark Union Church. “They did it because they're seeking justice that still hasn't been realized. Because you have people that want to put things under the rug, cover things up, not tell the truth. Well, the devil is a liar, because the truth does rise to the light, and anything that (is) hidden will become unhidden.”

“Steve and Win, bless you, and all of those partners who are with you. And the persecutions you face, the difficulties you face, because of the stance that you take--don't even get it twisted. Your God will have the last word in Kansas City,” said Dr. Vernon Howard of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Kansas City. “A truth (about) a police, a law enforcement agency that cares more about a statue, about a monument than about the Black lives that it takes. Kansas City is a major metropolitan area that allows for an apartheid like police system by other folks in another city in the state."

Continued Push for Change

Troy Robertson of Team HONK, who has reported multiple instances of being brutalized and targeted by police officers, stressed the need to continue to work for justice. “We have to make a change, and I stand there, hold the signs out for peace honk, honk for unity, honk for justice; for these kids. You see what I'm saying? We got to stand up for these kids.”

Robertson was arrested later that evening and held for over 24 hours with a bond of over $4,500. Alleged citations were DWI, property damage, driving slowly and setting fire in a public street. Robertson said the arrest came after he left the event, and that officers forced him off the road, causing him to crash his car and break his wrist.

Young and Jamieson stressed the importance of continuing to fight for justice for those who have been brutalized or targeted by KCPD, including Robertson. They plan to continue their protest next Friday, June 11, at 6 p.m.

Published on: 6/5/2021

Mayor’s ordinance to reallocate KCPD funding passes city council 9-4

Andrei Stoica

5/20/2021- Kansas City, Missouri

Kansas City, Missouri Mayor Quinton Lucas

File photo by Andrei Stoica

Kansas City, Missouri Mayor Quinton Lucas introduced a motion at the May 20 City Council meeting to reallocate $42,282,444 of the Kansas City Police department budget to the Community Services and Prevention Account of KCPD, which is intended to support community initiatives and prevention programs.

Lucas said the reallocation is aimed at ensuring KCPD funds are used with greater accountability. “This is just about accountability,” he said. “When I was third district at large, there was not a single community meeting where people didn't say, ‘Councilman Lucas, what are you doing about violent crime in our city?’ And you know what I get kind of tired of saying, ‘Well, you know, I voted on the budget back in March. And I'll follow up and ask some more questions for it.’ So maybe this is just one little step.”

The five percent decrease to the department budget was passed city council with a vote of nine to four. The motion was introduced for same day advanced priority consideration with opposition from Councilman Dan Fowler who said, “I doubt I will support it when it comes before council, hopefully after it's been vetted, and talked about."

The councilman also voiced a concern about “transparency in government” regarding waiving additional readings.

“We have no way of knowing how we're going to spend $42 million. Is going to go to law enforcement? Is going to go to some of the community program that somebody links to law enforcement, reducing crime? I have no idea. This is wrong. I can't support this," he said.

Fowler was one of the four votes against Ordinance 210466 alongside council members Kevin O'Neil, Heather Hall and Teresa Loar.

“This is my 14th year down here. This is the worst piece of legislation I've ever seen down here. The worst, by far” said Hall. “One thing I didn't notice on here, Mr. Mayor, are your two police officers who protect you day in and day out. They're not being cut.”

Councilman Brandon Ellington, who voted in favor of the legislation said “Why is it important? It's important because people that are law enforcement officers are actually individuals that work for and are restricted to policy implications. on a local level”

”When we talk about law enforcement, the conversation is broken down to us versus them. If you find yourself understanding of which position you are in, are you them or are you us? That is problematic because we're talking about a public safety entity.” he added.

Mayor Pro Tem Kevin McManus agreed, citing the reallocation ordinance as well as a second ordinance that supplies additional city funding to KCPD for the community programs: “DC and Jefferson City, what they want us to think is that this is an us versus them situation, us versus law enforcement, community versus law enforcement. That's not what this is about. These two ordinances together are actually an invitation for cooperation, an invitation for collaboration.”

The second ordinance (210468), allocates $3 million to the Community Services and Prevention account. It authorizes the City Manager to execute an agreement with the Board of Police Commissioners of Kansas City, Missouri in a total amount not to exceed $45,282,444.00 for community engagement, outreach, prevention, intervention, and other public services including recruitment efforts for a new police academy class.

Councilwoman Mellisa Robinson spoke on Twitter following the vote expressing her support for the ordinance specifically because it would provide support for the academy class.

Hall also took to Twitter to announce a Town Hall discussion on Thursday May 27 at 6:30 pm at Northland Neighborhoods Inc, hosted by the four council members who voted “no” on both ordinances.

"Ordinance 210466 introduced & passed May 20th cut the KCMO Police Budget by $42 million without public input,” the flyer reads.

The Board of Police Commissioners is also pushing back, with all members except Lucas (Commissioner Tolbert absent) voting to initiate litigation against the ordinance during a closed session meeting held Monday, May 24. Sunshine Law attorney Bernie Rhodes told KSHB 41 the meeting may have violated laws regarding closed meetings needing to have clear agenda items and explanation for why they are closed meetings.

Ordinance 210466 reallocated but did not cut police department funding, while Ordinance 210468 added $3 million to support Community Service and Prevention.

“This actually increases the police budget over what it is in the adopted budget for the city of Kansas City,” Lucas said.

The town hall event is open to the public and will be held 5340 NE Chouteau Trafficway, Kansas City, Missouri.

Published on: 5/26/2021

Olathe North coach terminated for using racial slurs

Rebecca Bayley

5/10/2021- Olathe, Kansas

Protesters call for firing of Olathe North baseball coach Pete Flood in front of Olathe North High School on Saturday, May 8.

Photo by Andrei Stoica

In a unanimous decision Monday, the Olathe School Board voted to uphold the recommendation of the district superintendent to immediately terminate baseball coach Pete Flood in response to reports that he used racial slurs when addressing a student.

The vote was part of a special session held by the board today in response to a statement made by an Olathe North parent on social media Friday morning. According to the statement, Flood used racial slurs when talking to a student during batting practice at a Thursday night baseball game.

School board president Joe Beveridge apologized to the family of the student and thanked them for reporting Flood’s behavior. He said that the district would “act swiftly to prevent this from happening ever again.” Beveridge added, “Anyone who demonstrates racism and bigotry like this has no place in our district.”

He also recommended the district evaluate its diversity training program for teachers, staff, coaches, and students. “You can and should expect more from the Olathe School District. We will learn from this, and we will be better in the future,” he said.

Another school board member highlighted the importance of speaking up when witnessing racist behavior, citing the phrase “silence is acceptance.”

There was no discussion during today’s meeting of whether Flood would be eligible for employment in other districts following his termination.

Community demands for this decision have been evident since the parent’s statement was published on social media Friday morning. In addition to an outpouring of comments on social media that were in support of the family and in favor of terminating Flood, on Saturday afternoon, families rallied in front of Olathe North High School in an event organized by The Miller Dream, LLC along with other local groups. Demonstrators set up signs for passing cars and chanted phrases including, “End white silence about racist violence,” “Black lives matter in our schools,” and “Today is the day racism goes away.”

A representative of The Miller Dream stated that the purpose of the protest was to call for the immediate termination of Pete Flood, along with other reparative measures for the incident, including a public apology and mental health resources provided by the school district for those harmed by the incident.

According to a statement issued by Olathe Public Schools, at the time of the protest, Flood was on administrative leave, and the district had issued a recommendation for his termination to the Olathe School Board.

“Although there has been a recommendation [to terminate Flood],” a representative of The Miller Dream said, “We’re here standing to basically push for accountability with the schools for a zero-tolerance policy for racism.”

They added, “We’re also demanding that there’s an independent investigation into this matter, because we’re aware that these incidents occur more frequently than most know in our communities.”

Other incidents of racial harassment & discrimination cited by parents of local students include the 2017 case of a Blue Valley school district student being excluded from a dance performance because of her dark skin and the Shawnee Mission school district community’s call in 2020 for the dismissal of a principal who allegedly made racist remarks.

The Olathe School Board’s decision to terminate Flood during today’s session addressed some of the concerns raised by Saturday’s protestors, most notably the termination of the coach and the public statement of apology. Others, like the request for mental health resources for those impacted by the incident and an independent investigation of the incident, were not directly addressed.

Published on: 5/11/2021

KU Black Student Coalition Holds Ceremony of Silence

Brynn Fitzsimmons

4/23/2021- Lawrence, Kansas

Attendees gather at the KU Black Student Coalition’s Ceremony of Silence outside Strong Hall at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas on Friday, April 23.

Photo by Justin Ferguson

The KU Black Student Coalition (KUBSC), in collaboration with the Jayhawker Liberation Front and the KU Black Student Union, held a Ceremony of Silence for victims of police brutality across the nation on Friday, April 23. The event, which was held outside Strong Hall on the University of Kansas campus in Lawrence, Kansas, included brief speeches, a space for silence and the reading of the names, dates of birth and death, and location and reason of death for over 170 individuals killed by police.

Keir Rudolph, a senior elementary education major at KU and the vice president of the Black Student Coalition, said the hope for the event was “to create that safe space of silence and reflection and recollection.”

Rudolph said it was important to hold the event on KU’s campus as a way of supporting and holding space for students of color.

“Sometimes, when you attend to predominately white institution, especially like KU, you kind of just feel like you're ignored and invisible,” he said. “Even when the provost or other administration sends out messages, they're always either lukewarm or they always ignore the real issue at hand, and they don't specifically call out racism or bigotry.”

“I know that if I'm one student feeling it, then other students of color also most definitely feel it,” he explained. “So I think just organizing that space around is…why I do (events like this), from a student's perspective.”

Highlighting Policing

Rudolph said it was important to him to read not only the names, but also the locations and causes of death for victims of police brutality. He said including details such as location helped highlight the many places across the nation that have a longstanding “policing problem.”

“You can see that the police are in fact serving their role which is not to serve and protect, but to murder and kill to serve and protect the ruling class,” he said.

“The police are a reactive force at best, because the crime’s already happening,” he said. “So if that's the case, then we need to…divert the money from the police into a situation to where we can start becoming a proactive society and adjusting the things that are causing these crimes.”

“It's hard to imagine because I've been socialized for it, but people need to start to imagine that protection doesn't necessarily mean that you got to shoot this person down,” he said. “You can definitely abolish the police and still find ways to protect your community.”

Other Actions Address Lack of Admin Support

The KU Black Student Coalition also recently led a sit-in of Strong Hall following budget cuts, changes to the Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging, and the firing of multiple BIPOC faculty and staff.

“Those were to get the provost’s attention,” Rudolph said of protest actions like the sit-in. For KUBSC, “attention” includes response to national issues, but also issues specific to KU. Rudolph said un- or under-investigated incidents of racism or sexual assault on campus and lack of recruitment or support for students of color were all issues addressed at earlier actions.

Rudolph said the burden of supporting students through recent events, such as the murders of Daunte Wright and Ma’Khia Bryant, has repeatedly fallen on people of color, including student groups like KUBSC as well as faculty and staff of color across campus.

“It seems like admin is just leaving that up to the people of color to do the work themselves,” he said. “It just lands on us the students of color that you'd like us to do the work and...hold that space.”

Rudolph said that while he will be graduating this year and leaving KU, he is confident that other members of KUBSC and other groups will continue working for campus change and to support Black students, including through events like the Ceremony of Silence.

Published on: 5/2/2021

Kansas City Coalition Refuses Meeting with Mayor and Chief of Police, Releases Open Letter

Press Release

4/22/2021- Kansas City, Missouri

Black Rainbow, the Kansas City branches of NAACP and SCLC, the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, National Black United Front - Kansas City, Operation Liberation and Urban Summit have refused to participate in the recent meeting with Kansas City, Missouri Mayor Quinton Lucas and Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith. Black Rainbow released the following press release, which includes the coalition's full letter on the issue.


In a major show of unity and solidarity, legacy Civil Rights organizations have united in coalition with young, Black-led abolitionists to reject Mayor Quinton Lucas’s complicity with police violence in Kansas City. Nearly a year after their initial demands were put to Mayor Lucas, not a single one has been met by the mayor.

They have penned an open letter to Mayor Lucas, Police Chief Rick Smith, and Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker rejecting performative politics, and demanding true substantial change.

“The black community in Kansas City voted for him, and he’s turned around and slaughtered us by not addressing our policing issues,” said Alexander Paul of Black Rainbow.

Originally formed last year to stand up against the Trump administration’s federal occupation of Kansas City, Operation Legend, the coalition bridges the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.-era civil rights leaders to new, bold abolitionist groups at the forefront of the movement for Black lives. Among others listed in the letter, their demands include:

DIVEST from KCPD by legislating a budget cut, whereas the total KCPD budget shall be reduced to 20% of the general fund as required by state law.

INVEST in a community-established People’s Budget by redirecting KCPD funding to resources such as housing, healthcare, sustainable infrastructure and education.

The full letter with all demands can be read below:

Dear Mayor Lucas, Police Chief Rick Smith, and Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker,

On April 21st 2021, Mayor Quinton Lucas along with Police Chief Rick Smith and the Jackson County Prosecutor's Office requested a meeting with leaders of the Kansas City community in anticipation of the upcoming verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial. This invitation follows a year of organizers making clear demands to city/state officials, including Mayor Lucas, and being met with silence and false promises. This call for communal dialogue reminds us of last summer when you knelt with us in the afternoon and set a curfew to teargas us by the evening.

Tuesday, April 20th in a CNN interview, Mayor Lucas stated that he would be meeting with organizers in an effort to deter potential civil unrest in the aftermath of the Chauvin verdict, implying a collaborative relationship that is nonexistent on this issue. As is common with Mayor Lucas, his remarks on this issue were a gross misrepresentation of the facts. Since May 2020, Mayor Lucas has engaged in political posturing at the expense of members in our community who are most impacted by police violence. We will not be party to his political shenanigans. Therefore, we declined the invitation to attend a meeting regarding the Chauvin verdict, which was held Wednesday, April 21, 2021.

Our response to Mayor Lucas, Chief Rick Smith, and the Jackson County Prosecutor's Office is simple:

We will not take part in performative politics. We are justice seekers, not order keepers. State-sanctioned violence via the KCPD, a publicly funded institution, is being inflicted upon our community with impunity. The KCPD, under the leadership of Chief Rick Smith remains a racist institution, both systemically and structurally. Smith’s leadership fosters a white supremacist culture that breeds violence, engages in archaic over-policing, and blatantly disregards the humanity of Black people. We will not back down and we will not be silent amid such.

Furthermore, the recent reforms announced by KCPD are miniscule, ineffective, inadequate, and don’t produce structural change. Moreover, they do nothing to dismantle systemic racism in the execution of policies, practices and procedures.

If order is desired in society, justice is required. Justice is required on behalf of Terrance Bridges, Cameron Lamb, BB Hill, Ryan Stokes, Donnie Sanders, Deja Stallings, and numerous other victims of violence at the hands of KCPD.

We remain resolute in our demands:

REMOVE Police Chief Rick Smith

DIVEST from KCPD by legislating a budget cut, whereas the total KCPD budget shall be reduced to 20% of the general fund as required by state law.

INVEST in a community-established People’s Budget by redirecting KCPD funding to resources such as housing, healthcare, sustainable infrastructure and education.

DISMANTLE the Office of Community Complaints

ESTABLISH an independent community-based and governed office of complaints

CREATE foot-chase policy on non-violent allegations which protect and serve

MANDATE the immediate suspension without pay for officers under criminal indictment

CREATE a transformative/strategic reparations plan for the families of those who have been murdered by KCPD

WITHHOLD pensions and don't rehire officers involved in excessive force

REQUIRE officers to be liable for misconduct settlements

CAP overtime accrual + OT pay for military exercises

WITHDRAW participation in police militarization programs

ESTABLISH open records ordinance ensuring that officers’ misconduct information and disciplinary histories are not shielded from the public

APPOINT special prosecutor to investigate alleged police misconduct

In solidarity with justice and peace,


Black Rainbow

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)

National Black United Front - KC

Operation Liberation

Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater KC (SCLC-GKC)

Urban League of Greater Kansas City

Urban Summit of Kansas City

Published 0n: 4/22/2021

BOPC Passes Policies for First Amendment Protected Activities, Digital Media Recording

Rebecca Bayley

3/23/2021- Kansas City, Missouri

File photo of Mayor Quinton Lucas at a BOPC meeting

Photo by Andrei Stoica

The Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners passed several policy reforms at their meeting on March 23, 2021 at police headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri. Policies modified included the First Amendment Protected Activities policy and the Internally Recorded Digital Media Policy.

The policy relating to body cameras outlined the intended procedures for body camera use. The Police Department first formally announced plans to implement body cameras in June 2020 and announced their initial implementation in January 2021. At Tuesday’s meeting, the Board of Police Commissioners approved the expenditure of $795,203 for the purchase of body cameras, using a combination of federal dollars from Operation Legend and a grant from the Kansas City Police Foundation.

According to the most recent press release from the department about the Internally Recorded Digital Media Policy, body cameras must be used by all police officers for the full extent of all interactions with citizens. Digital footage recorded via body cameras will only be stored for 180 days, unless it is considered evidence in a criminal investigation. Longer storage times have reportedly not been implemented because the cost of doing so would be outside the current budget.

Parts of the body camera policy were “reworded for clarity” prior to the policy’s passage on March 23, according to department officials who spoke during the meeting. The only wording change highlighted during the meeting was a portion of the policy in which “members should activate their body worn camera at the outset of each contact” with a citizen was changed to “members will activate.”

The second of the two policies, the First Amendment Protected Activities Policy, was introduced at the February Board of Police Commissioners Meeting and approved during the March meeting. The policy sets forth guidelines for officers to follow when engaging with protesters and others engaged in First Amendment protected activities. These guidelines include steps to follow when a group’s activities have been designated by the police as unlawful assembly. Specifically, the policy prohibits police from using less than lethal weapons or from using “munitions (other than chemical agents)” to disperse such groups, according to the department’s most recent press release about the policy. The use of less than lethal weapons by the Kansas City Police Department to disperse protestors last summer was controversial because it reportedly resulted in serious injuries for some members of the community.

During Tuesday’s meeting, the board also reviewed regular statistics reports that indicated a continuation of the trend over the last several years of increased homicides rates year over year. The board discussed concerns over decreases in performances in divisions like DUI, Narcotics & Vice, and Parking Control, as well as a decrease in the number of cases submitted to the prosecutor for various divisions.

Chief Rick Smith cited loss of staff as the main reason for these lags. Acting Deputy Chief Mike Hicks also mentioned in his report on the regional crime lab’s performance, “We are seeing an increase in people leaving” the department - up 45 year to date in 2021, from 33 year to date in 2020.

The board is set to meet Tuesday, April 20, 2021 at 1 p.m. for a special meeting related to the budget, and will meet again the following Tuesday, April 27, at 9:30 a.m. for their regular meeting.

Published 0n: 4/14/2021

Hickman Mills School Board Candidates Focused on Accreditation, Future Directions for District

Brynn Fitzsimmons

4/5/2021- Kansas City, Missouri

The Hickman Mills School District will vote tomorrow, Tuesday, April 6, for two new school board members. The school board election appears on the ballot in addition to city issues, such as the e-tax.

School board president Cecil Wattree highlighted the importance of tomorrow’s election. “I think that in whatever outcome of the election, we will need transparency and accountability from top to bottom,” he said. “With our current advancements with teacher pay and Return to Learn plan, we need to continue to build a culture of governance that leads by example.”

There are five candidates running for two board seats. Key points in discussions among candidates have included district accreditation, a safe return to school, business/community partnerships and district culture. The five candidates are incumbent Carol Graves, Ron Pearson, Ebony Osby, Ann Coleman and Clifford Ragan III. A sixth candidate who will appear on the ballot, John Carmichael, is no longer running.

Both Graves and Ragan ran in the last election but did not win. All five active candidates have offered details on their platforms at various forums.

Osby and Pearson have been endorsed by former District Superintendent Dr. Marge Williams as well as current board member Alvin Brooks.

Osby is a former school district teacher, and said her priorities are accreditation, increasing parent involvement and raising salary for teachers. She said increasing support for teachers is a key tool in gaining accreditation.

Pearson is an Army veteran. He served 21 years in the Army and has contracted with the Department of Defense. He also holds a degree in organizational leadership. He said he would use his background in policy and organization to work for strategic improvement plans and strategic community partnerships.

Graves and Coleman have been endorsed by Freedom, Inc., where Graves also serves as a committee member. DaRon McGee, who currently sits on the board, is also on Freedom, Inc.’s board.

Coleman has degrees in education and special education and is a long-time resident of the district. She said her priorities included accreditation and parent programs to help parents better assist their students.

Graves has 20 years of classroom teaching experience, six years serving on the board, and said changing school culture was her top priority for the next term. She said lack of parental involvement is a key issue, as is pay and support for teachers.

Ragan has also served on the board previously, including as vice president, but did not win re-election last term. He has also been involved in the PTA, Harvesters, and Booster’s Club. He said his priories are accreditation and addressing that “the Hickman Mills School District has had no identity.”

Current Board Directions

In addition to the Return to Learn plan, which the district is implementing to safely bring students back to school, the district has several other initiatives that the new board is anticipated to address.

At its March 25 meeting, the board approved a salary increase for teachers, to begin at the start of the 2021-2022 school year. The move aimed to make salaries competitive—an issue that came up throughout the school board election.

The change places the district at one of the highest maximum salaries for the Kansas City metro when including experience and education.

The board is also discussing policy changes related to board behavior and ethics as the district tries to move toward accreditation. Wattree introduced discussion at the March 25 meeting relating to more formal requirements for meeting attendance. Board member attendance has been an issue at recent meetings, with Director DaRon McGee missing or arriving more than 10 minutes late to 12 of the last 23 meetings (eight absences) and Director Byron Townsend missing or arriving more than ten minutes late to eight of 23 (six absences), according to board attendance records.

Published 0n: 4/5/2021

“Let Us Take It Into Our Own Hands”: Camp 6ixx Demands Support, Not Sweeps

Brynn Fitzsimmons

4/1/2021- Kansas City, Missouri

Camp 6ixx, which began as a warming site for the houseless community in Westport in January, is facing a sweep threat from the city, who has ordered them to leave by end of day on April 4.

Photo by Andrei Stoica

“When they do the sweeps, where the people go, right?” said Willis, one of the houseless residents of Camp 6ixx, a houseless camp in Westport that started as a warming site in January and has since grown to a small community, with community members working to improve tent structures, start a community garden and coordinate other resources for the houseless community. The camp is named for Scott “Sixx” Eicke, a houseless man who died of exposure on New Year’s Day.

The city has issued notice to both Camp 6ixx and the Kansas City Homeless Union’s occupation of city hall in Kansas City, Missouri to vacate the camps by end of day on Sunday, April 4. The camps are anticipating sweeps in the early hours of Monday morning.

Willis said sweeps threaten the safety and stability of unhoused individuals by taking the resources the houseless community has been able to gain. He said services for houseless individuals needs to include giving people homes—not sweeping camps.

“You know, it's the city officials and people who give Section A government housing need to step up and say, ‘Hey, this, these buildings that are empty, and get these people and reprocess them. They need reconstruction in their lives. Something in their lives failed, hurt them; let's pick them up,’” he said.

Another camp resident, Michael said the city should support what’s already happening onsite at the camp, rather than trying to impose their own guidelines or programs.

“People of Kansas City are pretty much doing everything they can. They're coming by with food, clothes, supplies, and even the people that set this set this up is spending their money to make it better. So the city could just help,” Michael said. “It's not like they don't have the money or the manpower or the resources, why they shouldn't? why they're shutting camps now, with nowhere for people to go--what's the next step after that? Take him to jail for sitting on sitting down somewhere? I mean, it's almost like they're just trying to circulate the money within their own organization.”

“The city (is) just sitting there, and all they're doing is shutting camps down Instead of…opening up opportunities for these camps to better themselves, for people to actually find jobs,” Michael said. “It's kind of hard to do that when you have no internet and no computer, no access to anything, and a lot of these people don't.”

He explained that in addition to resources like internet access, there are many other resources that would help the houseless community that aren’t freely available and improving access should be how the city responds to camps like Camp 6ixx.

“You shouldn't have to get arrested to get drug treatment,” he said. “(The city) should come through and offered stuff like drug treatment. They should come through and offer job resources, you know, (saying) 'We got this, we got this over here, y'all can come by jump on the computer, job hunt.’ But like I said…all the city's worried about is their own pockets.”

Kansas City’s 2021-2022 budget allocates $1.72 million to housing initiatives, with nearly half that funding going to contracts with non-municipal organizations. Houseless leaders at both Camp 6ixx and the Kansas City Homeless Union occupation of city hall have criticized the budget for funding organizations, such as shelters, that often don’t provide permanent solutions to houselessness or housing insecurity.

Joe, another member of the camp, said some businesses have complained about the camp or have cut resources like open WiFi that members of the camp relied on to look for work.

“Subway's always had WiFi…(but) just the last couple of days, they shut it off,” he said. “It's hard to look for a job or anything when you don't have internet or computer that kind of resource.”

Joe explained he is at the camp staying with his mother, who became houseless after leaving an abusive relationship. He said there were no shelters available that would let them stay together. His brother, who became houseless in February, is in the hospital, and Joe said he’s needed to watch his mother’s possessions while she is with his brother.

“It's kind of a messed up situation,” he said. “You know, it's kind of hard when you're in that situation to try to get out of it. Like, I don't, I can't get a job because I don't have a place to live.”

Amanda, an organizer who has been supporting Camp 6ixx, said the need for housing has been a primary demand from the camp, with many residents asking: “There's 10,000 vacant homes in Kansas City; why are we laying our heads on the ground?”

“We want the homes,” she said. “We know how to pick them up. We have contractors here. We have people that have done electrical work, plumbing work, all of that. And so why, why not give us the homes, let us to take it into our own hands? We're doing it here, and we're doing a good job.”

Organizations involved in assisting Camp 6ixx have included Care Beyond the Boulevard, Uplift, Team Jesus, Street Medicine KC, ReStart, Hope Faith Ministries and many community residents who have stopped by with donations or to ask how they can help.

The camp is accepting donations via Venmo and Cashapp ($Camp6ixx) and can be contacted via their Facebook page.

Published 0n: 4/4/2021

“We Are Not Accidentally Homeless; We Are Being Oppressed”: KC Homeless Union Speaks Out Against City Eviction Threat

Brynn Fitzsimmons

4/1/2021- Kansas City, Missouri

Tiana Caldwell, a leader with KC Tenants, speaks to attendees of Thursday’s rally in support of the Kansas City Homeless Union. The rally was a joint event between KC Tenants and the union. Union leaders, including Qadhafi (right) said the occupation would not end in spite of eviction and arrest threats from the city.

Photo by Andrei Stoica

The Kansas City Homeless Union, which has been occupying the grounds outside City Hall in Kansas City, Missouri since the end of January, was given written notice that they must vacate the camp. Union leaders said they are expecting the sweep to happen early Monday morning, and are asking the community to come support them.

However, the group also said they will not be leaving. Their demands—for homes, jobs, water and a seat at the table—have not been met.

“Y'all keep putting us outside, from under bridges, but y'all not giving us no place to go,” union leader Qadhafi said in a March 23 interview. “We don’t need a damn shelter; we need homes.”

“We don't benefit from people going giving shelters. They shelters benefit. They get money for that. We don't get no money. We still be homeless,” he said. “Shelters is getting approximately $15 million a year…from the city,” he explained. “The private sector is getting them approximately 30 or 45 more million dollars in donations. And with all that money, and only allegedly 2,000 homeless people in Kansas City—that's a multi-million dollar industry…and the people that need it the most is not benefitting.”

The group has requested homes from the land bank as well as funds to pay houseless individuals to renovate those homes. They also demand clean water, and inclusion in conversations about houselessness in Kansas City.

“You got people think that we begging for homes, (but) we simply saying with the same money the city is already spending, and allegedly doing it on our behalf, that we could take that same money and solve the problem,” Qadhafi explained. “A shelter is only in the business of capitalizing off of us being homeless. If we take the same money that's going to shelters, we wouldn't need a shelter.”

“We demand a seat at the table where they make decisions about our lives,” Qadhafi said at a rally on Thursday, April 1. The rally was held in collaboration with KC Tenants in support of the union.

At that rally, Qadhafi explained further the ways in which the city’s response to houselessness has not addressed the problem. He discussed issues ranging from evictions that often side with landlords and lead to houselessness for residents to shelters that refuse to hire houseless people to the lack of water stations or bathroom facilities available for the houseless community, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have a right to self-determination,” he said. “We have a right to simply use the bathroom like regular people, not outside like animals.”

Despite various city initiatives, including Mayor Quinton Lucas’ Homelessness Taskforce, Qadhafi said the union’s demands are still not being met.

“Our city officials is not on our side. We are fighting literally for our lives,” he said. “If our city officials were on our side, we wouldn’t have a fight; we would have homes.”

“Every day out here is an act of terror,” he said. “We are not accidentally homeless; we are being oppressed.”

Unhoused leaders share their experiences

Union leader Lulu Livingston also spoke at Thursday’s rally, explaining that she became houseless when she had her identity stolen. She said the police department dismissed her report, and she’s been houseless since.

“I’m tired of being afraid all the time,” she said. “I want a home. I want a job. I want access to clean water. And if I want that, I need a seat at the table.”

Livingston said people often judge the houseless community for trying to survive. For example, she said housed members of the community will see discarded clothes and assume a lack of cleanliness, when in reality, Livingston said there often are no other options.

“When it starts to rain, you panic for just that split second when you realize there’s no safe place to get out of the rain,” she said. When items like clothing6 get wet, she said they’re often too heavy to carry, and she has no option but to discard them.

“From my point of view, I have no choice. From their (housed individuals’) point of view, I’m just a slob,” she said.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (left) talks with Kansas City Homeless Union leader Qadhafi (right) during a tour of the union’s occupation of Kansas City, Missouri City Hall on Thursday, April 1.

Photo by Andrei Stoica

Supporting members

Qadhafi explained that while the occupation is a political strategy aimed at forcing the city to meaningfully address houselessness in Kansas City and do so on the terms of the houseless community, the union has also worked to support its members in other ways.

He said he was recently able to help get shelter for a family with three young children who had been staying at the occupation but needed better shelter.

“I asked them about going to a shelter yesterday and they panicked,” he said. “Because for whatever reason, people don’t want those type of people in they business, because they try to take control of their lives and tell them what, when, where, how or ‘we'll take your kids,’ and people are in fear of going to shelters.”

“People need homes, not people prying into their business for being homeless,” he said. “They don't want their kids took from them, just because they're homeless.”

Other union members also spoke during Thursday’s rally about the sense of community within the union.

“We love each other. That’s how we are a union,” said union member Elijah X, who is also a leader with KC Tenants. “This is more than just a union.”

“This homeless union is a body of people that care,” said Solo, another union member. “I’d like to let the city know we’re not going nowhere. We’re already outside!”

Support for the union

Qadhafi said the union needs the support of the Kansas City community—of residents who can put both their resources and their vote behind the union.

“I’m asking the people that’s here to get our back,” he said at Thursday’s rally.

In addition to asking the community to show up in solidarity early Monday morning (especially before 7 a.m.), the union is also taking donations via their CashApp, $hugyohood. Other donations and support can be coordinated by reaching out through their Facebook page.

Published on: 4/4/2021

KCMO approves funding for the Office of the Tenant Advocate

Andrei Stoica

3/25/2021- Kansas City, Missouri

Jenay Manley, a leader with KC Tenants speaks at the press conference held ahead of the city council budget approval meeting.

Photo by Andrei Stoica

The Kansas City, Missouri City Council adopts $1.74 billion for the 2021-2022 city budget on March 25. Included in the budget is $931,495 to fund the Office of the Tenant advocate. The proposal to create the position was part of the Tenant Bill of Rights, an initiative led by local activist group KC Tenants. The bill was signed into law in June 2020 and included the creation of the office. The need to adequately fund the office was part of KC Tenants’ continued action and protests over the last nine months.

“This will be a victory for us at KC Tenants and it’s a victory for tenants across the city and not a moment too soon,” said Diane Charity, a leader with KC Tenants, at a press conference held ahead of the council’s approval.

At the press conference held just before the city council meeting, KC Tenants announced their next phase of advocacy for housing rights in Kansas City.

“We dream of a Kansas city where everyone has a home. We dream of a Kansas City where everyone has safe, accessible, truly and permanently affordable homes… I dream of the Kansas City where this mayor and city council passed a housing trust fund policy designed by the people who stand to be the most impacted,” said Jenay Manley, a leader of KC Tenants.

KC Tenants has also proposed the creation of a Housing Trust Fund at the press conference. The fund would have three components: governance, funding and programs that would prioritize long-term affordability, rehabilitative solutions for people with prior evictions and have community control.

“(If) we're going to end homelessness and housing insecurity, we have to think big. If we're going to care for our neighbors in a radical new way we're going to have to be bold. We have to take risks, do things and do things differently if we want different outcomes; and of course we have to approach this type of policymaking with humility,” said Jordan Ayala, a member of KC Tenants while talking about the fund.

KC Tenants will be holding Solidarity Rally with KC Homeless Union on Thursday, April 1 2021 in front of Kansas City, Missouri City Hall with the KC Homeless Union.

More details will be released from KC Tenants in the coming weeks.

Published on: 3/31/2021

Albert Wilson released on bond, district attorneys look to “resolve this short of trial"

Andrei Stoica

3/23/2021- Lawrence, Kansas

Jeanette Price of Kansas City, MO holds a sign outside the Douglas County Courthouse on November 3, 2020, at a hearing asking for a retrial.

Photo by Brynn Fitzsimmons

Albert Wilson was released from Douglas County Jail on March 23, following a hearing held by Judge Sally Pokorny in Lawrence, Kansas. He was greeted by friends and family following his release.

Wilson, now 24, was accused of rape in 2016 after meeting the 17-year-old at the Hawk, a bar near the University of Kansas campus in Lawrence. He was initially convicted by an all-white jury and sentenced to over 12 years in prison. The Free Albert Wilson campaign has advocated for his release on the grounds of lack of evidence, a point that was also raised during the hearing arguing for re-trial in November 2020.

During the hearing Michael Whalen, Wilson’s defence attorney requested bail conditions be the same as before his first trial with bail set at $75,000 and no GPS monitoring. The judge allowed the request while agreeing that Wilson was not a flight risk.

Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez, who is new to this case, had no objections to the decision and added that the DA’s office will be “diligent and careful.”

“We (will) attempt to resolve this short of trial,” said Valdez.

When Pokorny was considering the next hearing date, Whalen asked for enough time to meet and continue what he called “productive conversations” with Valdez.

“I think since we are attempting to resolve this in good faith if we could have 45 days, that would be better for us,” said Valdez.

Pokorny scheduled the new pretrial hearing to take place on May 13, 2021 at 3 p.m. at the Douglas County Courthouse in Lawrence, Kansas.

Published on: 3/24/2021

Hickman Mills School Board Candidates Speak at Forum

Brynn Fitzsimmons

3/21/2021- Kansas City, Missouri

The five Hickman Mills School Board (Kansas City, Missouri) candidates spoke at an online forum on Thursday, March 11. The event was hosted by the League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan organization that encourages voting participation and advocacy around various social issues. The forum asked candidates their opinions on accreditation, school closures, summer school and helping the district navigate the effects of COVID-19.

The candidates also discussed concerns about the sufficiency of Cerner’s level of support for the district, Missouri Senate Bill 55 and state support of the school.

Their responses are summarized below, and there will be another forum from the NAACP Kansas City, Missouri Branch on Monday, March 22.

Ann Coleman

Ann Coleman, a longtime resident of the district, holds degrees in both education and special education and said she hoped to bring that expertise and experience to the board. She has both a grandson and a nephew who are students in the district.

“I have a vested interest in this area,” she said. “I think that I have a lot to offer by being on the board.”

She said full accreditation is a priority for her, but that competitive salaries for teachers and additional programs to catch students up after a year of virtual learning will be crucial to that effort.

“A lot of our students have fallen behind because of the virtual education that they’ve had to get because of COVID…so I think we need to have some fierce tutoring offered to the students. We need to get the parents on board with that,” she said.

She also suggested programs that would help parents better support their students, citing an evening program she used to work with that met once a week for parents of district students. “Before we knew it, we had a whole cafeteria full of parents and students,” she said of the program.

She said she felt in-person summer school would also be beneficial, both for academic purposes and to allow students to be with their friends.

“I think the children would welcome it; I know the parents would welcome it,” she said.

Coleman opposed both school closures and efforts to expand school choice/voucher programs and charter schools, such as SB 55. She encouraged residents to reach out to their representatives to oppose state legislation that would threaten school funding.

She also said businesses in the district—especially large corporations like Cerner—needed to support both the community and the district. “When the community thrives, the school district thrives,” she said.

She said more support from Cerner could take many forms, including partnering with the district to provide mentoring and tutoring to students. “I have several friends that work over there, and I ask them, ‘Would you support being mentors to our students? Would you support being tutors to our students?’ And most of them said yes.”

“I think there’s a little bit more that they can do, but I do think they have helped,” she said of Cerner.

Carol Graves

Incumbent Carol Graves has 20 years of classroom teaching experience and has served on the board for the last six years.

“My model has been putting kids first, and I have not wavered,” she said. “I want to see Hickman Mills move up. I want to see the culture change.”

For Graves, a key focus of her next term would be changing school culture. “We have got to change the culture of our school,” she said. Doing so would help teachers feel more supported. “We’ve all had jobs that didn’t pay a lot of money, but we enjoyed them…Our teachers need to know that we appreciate them and that we are working behind the scenes to make sure that we give them the money that they deserve.”

She said she hopes to avoid further school closures in the district, especially after having been part of a school closure as a teacher. “It’s not an experience that we want to have or continue to have…but that’s what happens in education and in life,” she said.

She said she hopes increasing parental involvement will help student performance, especially as students try to catch up after the challenges COVID-19 created for many students. “Parent involvement would help, but how many of our parents really want to get involved with our kids?” she said. She also noted that things like an expanded summer school that also incorporated fun activities could help engage students and help them catch up.

Graves also pushed back against efforts to expand school choice, including Missouri Senate Bill 55 and other measures that may decrease school funding and pull students from the district.

“The best and the brightest would leave Hickman Mills (under school choice)…and so what you would have would be those that are just there,” she said. “We have to have students on all levels.”

She also questioned Cerner’s support of the district and said the district would need to consider future tax increment financing (TIF) arrangements carefully.

“If a business wants to get a TIF in our area, the Hickman Mills School District is going to make sure that we have a seat at the table,” she said. “They do support us in a way, and of course we would like more support from them, but we’re going to take what they’re giving us.”

Ebony Osby

Ebony Osby has experience working in the district and specific experience working with those with special needs. She is also a parent of three Hickman Mills students. “I’m a mom first, and that’s not just to my children. It’s to all children in this district,” she said.

Osby said some of her top issues as a candidate are accreditation, parent involvement and teacher salary. “This school district…has the culture in it, we just need to bring it out. It has the heart of the community in it; we just need to bring it out,” she said.

She sees better support of teachers—including financially—as important in helping the school move toward full accreditation. Accreditation, in turn, would help parents take the district more seriously and increase involvement.

“We do need to look at the data to figure out what areas we lag in,” she said. “But I also think this needs to be done in a fashion that doesn’t overwhelm the students or the teachers.”

Osby also said that while she opposes closing school buildings, she is also concerned about what happens to buildings that do close. “If a school does become closed, what are we doing with that building that can actually benefit the district?” she asked.

She also emphasized strategies for helping students catch up, like offering tutoring or other supplemental programs, but said programs like longer summer school would just burn out students and teachers. “If we take that (normal length summer break) away from them, then we have created an inconsistent schedule that these kids are not used to,” she said.

She also opposed SB 55 and school choice/voucher program expansion that would pull funding and students away from the district. “It doesn’t add any value to the school district,” she said.

The question of adding value to the district was one she posed for Cerner as well. “How has Cerner given back to the school district?” she asked. “I don’t feel like that has done a lot to help our kids. I feel like there is so much more that they can do.”

She said while support doesn’t have to be financial and could be through other programs, ranging from volunteering to mentorship or tutoring programs to internships for district students, businesses in the district—including Cerner—needed to meaningfully support the district.

Ron Pearson

Ron Pearson holds a degree in organizational leadership, served 21 years in the United States Army, has written and enforced policy for the Department of Defense and is seeking his first term on the school board.

“I have a heart for people,” he said, and noted both his children and his grandchildren have or are attending school in the district. “It would give me an opportunity to give something back.”

Pearson said he would bring his policy and organizational background to a board position, working for performance improvement plans, strategic partnerships with community members and focused progress toward accreditation.

“Competence is my watchword, and you can hold me accountable for that,” he said. “I do not plan to divide, but I plan to stand on my principles.”

He opposed both the expansion of school choice/voucher programs and closing schools. However, he also said that in the event of necessary closures, the board should ensure the buildings are repurposed to “we rebuild our blighted community.”

Pearson also proposed increasing community involvement to help support students. “I believe we can use community involvement and create programs,” he said. “We focus on parents; however, the parents are working…I do believe that if we look at the community…and we use them as force multipliers, we take some of the load off of those teachers.”

“These are some creative and innovative ways that we may use to catch up in some of the areas that we lost,” he said, noting successful community programs elsewhere, such as teacher pods. He also supported expanded summer school in a hybrid format and with “emotional supports” and trips for students.

While he emphasized community involvement, Pearson was critical of the current agreement with Cerner, both because of lack of benefit to the district and because of what he called a lack of transparency.

“As a member of the board of education, I would think that it would be critically important to re-establish our commitment (to transparency),” he said. “I do believe that we should go back and renegotiate (with Cerner)—in a nice way…so that we can both have some measure of amicability.”

He emphasized accountability as a key board member focus as well. “Accountability looks like being your word and understanding your position,” he said. “We have one employee. That employee is the superintendent. It is our job to support that superintendent.”

Clifford Ragan III

Clifford Ragan III has served as the vice president of the school board and a board member and is a father of four past and current students of the district. He cited involvement in a variety of community programs ranging from Harvesters to the PTA to the Booster Club. He said he hopes to help the district pursue accreditation and a stronger sense of school spirit.

“For a long length of time, the Hickman Mills School District has had no identity (and) spirit,” he said. He said the path to accreditation would require, “all hands on deck. That’s from the teacher to the parent to the counselors.”

Ragan said he was against school closures and would prefer to make cuts “at the top” instead. He criticized district decisions to hire during the pandemic when students were not physically in school. “That to me is looking at money you could have saved,” he said.

In addition to pushing parent involvement, Ragan also proposed tutoring and possible testing for students catching up after a year of virtual learning.

“I believe you’re going to have to tutor these kids,” he said. “We might have to bring in parents to also get a grip on everything also, but also we might need to test the student to see how much the student has lacked.”

Ragan is also against legislation like SB 55 and said the state should instead provide better resources to the district to be able to pursue accreditation and avoid state takeover. “Give us the tools and resources to get us up to standard. Then nobody goes anywhere,” he said.

Ragan was also opposed to a longer in-person summer school, citing the need for students to have a break. “Everybody needs a break. That’s why we all work: so we can have a vacation,” he said.

Ragan also stressed the need for more accountability and a stronger district negotiation stance when discussing TIF agreements, such as with Cerner. “They’ve given us some spare change,” he said.

He said the district should consider its other resources—such as district-owned land—and how to best leverage those assets and work with the community.

“We need to tighten up,” he said.

Ragan said his knowledge of the district makes him a strong candidate. “I was a parent first,” he said of his last term on the board. “I’m very knowledgeable. I’m here for not only the teachers (and) the students, but I’m here for the parents also.”

Published on: 3/21/2021

Albert Wilson granted retrial

Brynn Fitzsimmons

3/16/2021- Lawrence, Kansas

Supporters of Albert Wilson gather outside the Douglas County Courthouse in Lawrence, Kansas during Wilson's hearing on November 3, 2020, in which his attorney requested a retrial.

Photo by Brynn Fitzsimmons

On Tuesday, March 16, a Douglas County District Court Judge in Lawrence, Kansas ordered a retrial for Albert Wilson. The decision comes after Wilson’s attorney appeared before the same court to argue for retrial in November. Wilson, a Black man who is now 24, was convicted on one count of rape by an all-white jury in 2019, after he was accused of raping a 17-year-old girl he met at the Hawk, a bar near the University of Kansas campus, in 2016.

Wilson and his family and friends have consistently asserted his innocence, launching the Free Albert Wilson campaign, which offers a detailed timeline and other information about the case and seeks to engage the public.

Wilson’s attorney, Michael Whalen, alongside Josh Dubin of the Innocence Project, presented evidence in the hearing last fall that challenged whether Wilson’s original attorney, Forrest Lowry, had adequately considered all relevant evidence in Wilson’s case. Issues listed in the hearing included: an overstep of expert testimony in the initial trial, a failure of the alleged victim and her mother to report relevant information regarding personal and medical history, a failure to utilize sufficient expertise regarding rape kit results, and a failure to use all available surveillance footage to verify witness testimony.

A hearing on Tuesday, March 23 at 1:30 p.m. will set the date for the retrial.

Published on: 3/16/2021

Founder of Scott Eicke Warming Center discusses houselessness, future directions

Brynn Fitzsimmons

3/13/2021- Kansas City, Missouri

The Scott Eicke Warming Center at Bartle Hall, Kansas City, Missouri

Photo by Anna Stelmach

In just a few days, the Scott Eicke Warming Center at Bartle Hall, Kansas City, Missouri will either have to move locations or shut down. The warming center is named for Scott “Sixx” Eicke, who died of hypothermia on New Year’s Day.

The city, which has allowed Creative Innovative Entrepreneurs (CIE) and a number of other volunteers and community groups to operate the warming center out of Bartle Hall, has only agreed to the partnership through March 17.

Anton Washington, director and founder of CIE as well as the warming center, said that with the deadline quickly approaching, he’s searching for options to continue offering services to the houseless community.

“I speak with the houseless community…and they say that they want housing, jobs, clothing. They want food and places to lay their heads, and they need medical attention,” he said. He said he envisions a version of the warming center that functions for the next three to five years, serving as a clearinghouse for connecting people to wraparound services.

Similar measures—wraparound services that bring together a wide variety of community organizations and programs to address the multifaceted factors that create barriers to getting and keeping housing—have proven hugely successful in nearby communities like Kansas City, Kansas, which halved the number of students experiencing houselessness in just four years through Impact KCK.

“This is about being able to get these individuals…the proper care that they need,” Washington said.

Washington said the warming center started after he participated in a meeting in which a leader from Free Hot Soup, a group that hosts picnics and offers resources to those experiencing houselessness throughout the metro, asked where she was supposed to send people who were sleeping in tents during record-breaking cold temperatures in January.

Washington said there wasn’t a clear answer from the city. “That’s when I got on the phone,” he said. “I stayed on them because I was sick and tired of seeing people die.”

“We can’t just say we don’t know, because KC is a very, very big city…at the end of the day, we have Kansas Citians that are not even accounted for,” he said. “I’m not going to sit back and stand by and let these things happen when I have a voice.”

Most recently, efforts to connect people to resources has included a partnership with Downtown Community Improvement District and Downtown KC. Washington said the partnership allowed them access to liability insurance and other resources to be able to remain at Bartle Hall, which he saw as the most effective way to “make sure that we are connected with service providers that can give these individuals the proper care that they need.”

“I needed an entity that had a contract with the city,” he said of the partnership. “When they connected, CIE partnered with them just because of the fact of liability insurance.”

Washington’s GoFundMe for the center has raised over $23,000—money he just got access to on February 25. He said that while the center will continue to take donations to try to conserve their funds as much as possible, he plans to allocate those funds to serve the houseless community however he can.

“That money does not belong to me. That money belongs to the people who are houseless,” he said. “If they say they need water, the whole entire back end of Bartle Hall will be filled with water.”

He said he sees this way of allocating funds as crucially different from how the city—which allocated $8.5 million last year for services to those experiencing houselessness—allocates funds.

“Where’s (that money) at? It ain’t going to the houseless community, because if it did, this wouldn’t be happening right now,” Washington said.

Washington explained solutions can’t stop with the warming center, however. He said he hopes to connect with groups like the KC Homeless Union, which has been occupying outside City Hall for over a month, demanding $5.8 million in funding in the form of houses from the land bank, resources to pay houseless individuals to restore those houses, and water service to those houses. He also praised groups like KC Tenants and the activists and community members involved in the LGBTQ+ Commission for work they are doing for tenant and housing rights.

Washington also said eradicating houselessness will also mean eradicating the criminalization of houselessness and the over-policing of Black communities.

“We want to help decriminalize the basis of what’s going on in our communities,” he said. “We don’t need law enforcement to govern our communities. We do not. We have to rise above and take care of our own.”

Instead of putting $261.02 million toward police for FY 2021-2022, Washington said he wants investment in communities. He questioned funding for expenses like body cameras as well, saying those dollars would be better spent on the community.

“If they would act right, we wouldn’t need body cameras,” he said. “If they are properly trained with the mentality of going into a situation, then a body camera is not needed because then they’ll know how to deescalate a situation without having to pull their gun.”

“That funding that went into KCPD…could very well have went back into our community,” he said.

Published on: 3/13/2021

Kansas City Homeless Union Holds Rally, Demands Homes Not Shelters

Brynn Fitzsimmons

3/7/2021- Kansas City, Missouri

Qadhafi, leader of KC Homeless Union speaks at the Kansas City Homeless Solidarity Rally in front of the Kansas City, Missouri City Hall on March 7.

Photo by Andrei Stoica

The Kansas City Homeless Union invited the public to a rally Sunday, March 7, outside Kansas City Missouri City Hall, where the union has been occupying since January 31. Their occupation, which has run 37 days so far, is slated to continue until the city meets their demands.

“We here as a tactic to make them hear us,” said Qadhafi, the leader of the union. “The union is our voice.”

In a proposal released via Facebook and presented at the city’s recent budget hearings, the union demanded around $5.8 million in funding to go toward buying vacant, city-owned homes from the land bank, paying houseless individuals to convert those homes into livable residences, and supply water to unhoused individuals via water stations throughout the city. The union is also demanding they be included in city discussions around houselessness.

“The City should convert vacant and City-owned properties into permanent homes for those who are unhoused. The Land Bank has dedicated funds for repurposing vacant, abandoned, and blighted properties into productive use for the improvement of the Kansas City Community,” their demands document explains. The document requests $2.3 million from the land bank funding to provide homes, $1.7 million toward homeless initiatives to support transition into those houses, $1.7 million in contract labor to employ unhoused individuals to renovate the homes, and $65,000 to provide water.

“The City dedicates money to car washes for police vehicles, which would pay for at least one free water station or yearly maintenance,” the document states.

Community expresses support for union

A number of other groups have expressed support for the union’s demands, both during the rally and as part of the budget hearings. Groups such as KC Tenants, GYRL, KC Mutual Aid, and Kansas City Food Not Bombs raised funds, donated supplies and services and showed support at Sunday’s event.

Many groups have been vocal in their support of the union during city budget hearings as well. Christina Ostmeyer, a leader with KC Tenants, tied KC Tenants’ demands to fund the office of tenant advocate to the demands of the union in her testimony during a budget hearing on Tuesday, March 2, “I participated in the budget process last year, and I've participated this year,” she said. “And time and time again, I see the same people here not getting for what they've asked for, and what they've asked for, because they want it but because they need it, we need an office of the tenant advocate that's fully funded at $1.2 million. We need for the city to recognize the Kansas City homeless Union's demands, and not put band aids over the problem to actually fund prevention services and homes for those who are experiencing homelessness.”

Union demands homes, budget changes

Members of the Kansas City Homeless Union testified before city officials at the recent public budget hearings, discussing their demands as well as their plans to address houselessness in a way that better serves their community.

One member, Casper, said this at the hearing on March 2: “Everybody wants to tell their story. Basically mine is I’ve been hitchhiking and riding freight trains across the country for the past ten years, and I’ve learned a lot. Using the knowledge that I have and using access to the resources that I’ve been able to find, I was able to gain a foothold in the Kansas City Homeless Union. So with the skills that I already have in the construction business, I’d like to restore any properties secured by the union so that homeless people can live a property lifestyle.”

He went on to detail union demands for funding and explained how that funding would be used to provide permanent solutions by renovating vacant properties the city already owns, a tactic that has been used in other cities as well.

“The Kansas City Homeless Union has a list of demands,” Casper explained. “First of all, we want homes. Where is this going to come from? It’s going to come from the land bank…The city is spending millions on shelters and services. You know, Bartle Hall is going to close in two weeks. What are all those people gonna do? Where are they gonna go? They're gonna come here with us. No, they're gonna be out on the streets, doing whatever it is they have to do to survive. We shouldn't have to survive. We want to thrive.”

Casper stressed that thriving means permanent housing, not just shelters. “Kansas City spends tons of money on maintenance, for contract labor,” he said. “They could allocate $1.7 million and give everybody a t-shirt and a pair of black pants and, you know, work them for a week at $10 an hour or whatever the minimum wage is. Half of these people out here would be grateful to work to have an opportunity to prove themselves and speak for themselves.”

“It's our city,” he said. “And we want it back.”

A seat at the table

One of the union’s demands is for “a seat at the table,” something Qadhafi and other members have been vocal about both at Sunday’s event and at budget hearings and other interactions with public officials.

“Everybody (that’s) got any mission, taskforce, board that's not including the homeless union but continues to claim they speaking for the homeless people need to get right,” Qadhafi said at the March 2 budget hearing. “Because the homeless people have a voice. It's called the union….We got a voice and we coming. Our vote will count. We will not be insignificant no more.”

While Qadhafi and other union leaders have repeatedly stated that others need to stop speaking for the houseless and instead allow the union and members of the houseless community their own seat at the table, Qadhafi also said at Sunday’s rally that Kansas City needed to pay attention.

“It’s the people’s fault for allowing this,” he said of houselessness in Kansas City. “And I’m not looking for everybody to get involved, but I’m looking for some people to get mad as hell, mad enough to stand up and do something about it. I’m looking for people that’s...mad enough to get involved and do something about it.”

“I’m hear to make the whole damn city uncomfortable,” he said. “From now on, when I see homeless people, I be thanking them for their service, you know, because everyone’s walking on their backs, and they’re some of the strongest people that I know.”

“I’m asking the people to continue to get our back,” he said. “This is an historic event in other places,” he said of the occupation. “Kansas City, we need a historic response.”

“The people upstairs will bow down to our will,” he said, gesturing behind him toward City Hall. “The people have the power to make change.”

The Kansas City Homeless Union can be reached via Facebook, and are accepting cash donations exclusively through their CashApp, $hugyohood.

Published on: 3/13/2021

The Demand for Justice for Donnie Sanders Continues Despite No Charges Filed in Police Shooting from Jackson County Prosecutor

Andrei Stoica

3/6/2021- Kansas City, Missouri

Youlanda Sanders (left) and Reshonda Sanders (right) speak about their brother at the Justice for Donnie Sanders march in Kansas City, Missouri on March 6.

Photo by Andrei Stoica

The family of Donnie Sanders is demanding a full release of evidence surrounding Kansas City Police Officer Blayne Newton’s killing of Sanders on March 12, 2020. The family’s demands were read publicly by Anton Washington at a march and rally for Sanders that began at Arno Park, Kansas City, Missouri on Saturday. The march continued to the home of Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, where protesters demanded that Baker release a complete copy of the KCPD investigation report of the incident and release a complete copy of all material and evidence reviewed by the prosecutor used in her determination to not file charges.

“If this was your son or your brother, how would you react?” said Youlanda Sanders, sister of Donnie Sanders. “This hurts. All we asked for is justice for my brother. He didn't deserve to die. Not for no traffic stop. You know how this makes us feel? We hurt.”

The protest was in response to the decision announced Monday, March 1 not to charge the officer, Blayne Newton, with Sanders’s death. In the decision’s accompanying statement, Peters Baker’s justification for the decision was that “the evidence collected is insufficient to support charges against the officer. The officer told investigators that Sanders held up his hand toward him "as if he's got a gun."”

KCPD detain a protester at the march for Donnie Sanders in Kansas City, Missouri on March 6, 2021

Photo by Andrei Stoica

One protester detained at march

Following the demonstration and the reading of demands the group headed back to Arno park. During the march back one person was detained by KCPD police when a car turned into a group of protesters crossing Ward Parkway and struck a protester at low speed. The protester can be seen tapping on the car's hood in response. The person was taken into custody at the Shoal Creek patrol station in Kansas City, Missouri. They were released later that evening. One witness at the scene said: “This driver ran right into this young man, which freaked the young man out and he banged the hood. Within three minutes the place was crawling with police. They grabbed the young man, and arrested him. They handcuffed him and arrested him and we're all talking to the police. And we're saying: arrest the driver, because he ran into that young man. They ignored us, you know they have their orders about how to deal with the public in these situations, and they let, they let it go. They let the driver go, but we have license plates. And we're going to be contacting police and witnesses, I was standing right there when it happened”

Donnie Sanders investigation

Sanders was killed by Newton on March 12, 2020 in Kansas City Missouri. The unarmed 47 year old Sanders was shot multiple times. He died from his wounds the next day. The Missouri Highway Patrol was asked to investigate on October 13, 2020 as an outside agency. The request was made by the Jackson County prosecutor's office after receiving the completed KCPD report. “We’ve made clear, whenever we needed to, that the police department shouldn’t investigate itself, especially in fatal officer-involved shootings,” Michael Mansur, a spokesman for the Jackson County prosecutor office said in October. “So when they submitted this case to us, we immediately asked highway patrol to look at this investigation and review it.”

At a March 1, 2021 press conference, the family asked to see the detailed report and for justice for Donnie Sanders. “I want Newton charged.” said Mark Sanders, Donnie’s uncle. When asked if he thinks he will see this happen, Sanders said, “Probably won’t. Same thing over and over.”

The Jackson County prosecutor’s office is holding a virtual public forum today at 6 pm local time about use of force incidents involving the Kansas City, Missouri police department and their investigations.

Published on: 3/9/2021

Most KCMO City Departments will take 11 percent budget cut; KCPD to cut 4.3 percent

Brynn Fitzsimmons

2/16/2021- Kansas City, Missouri

KCMO Board of Police Commissioners at the February 2021 meeting.

Photo by Andrei Stoica

According to the most recent Board of Police Commissioners Meeting, the Kansas City Missouri Police Department is now projected to take a 4.3 percent budget cut rather than the proposed 11 percent cut to all city departments in light of COVID-19-related financial concerns. The proposed budget sits at $261.02 million, down from the current fiscal year’s $272.83 million. Other departments show steeper percentage cuts, such as Parks and Recreation going from $70.17 million to a proposed $59.24 million and Public Works going from $144.44 million to a proposed $130.41 million.

This will be KCPD’s first budget cut since 2013, when it took an approximately $6 million cut (2.76 percent). The department’s budget has increased by an average of $9.26 million every year since.

However, Commissioner Nathan Garrett of Graves Garrett LLC said he is still concerned about cuts to the police department budget.

“Let this moment of defund the police have no traction here,” he said in his closing remarks at Tuesday’s meeting. “There is no place for that here. It is utter nonsense. I will continue to advocate for this police department. I will continue to be vocal about the risks that I believe are associated with increased attrition, and our failure to supply.”

He said that while he recognized that the city council and the mayor have to consider budget cut impacts across multiple departments, his job as a commissioner is solely to advocate for the police department.

Garrett asserted that, if anything, rising homicides and other public safety concerns call for more police.

“I'm sure that universities are studying and those test tubes about how we can do more with less, and how what these afflicted communities need is less police not more police,” he said. “But I say bullshit. That's when I say. The fact is we need police officers on these streets.”

Garrett also pointed out the homicide rate for Kansas City, with 19 homicides in January, compared to 21 in January 2020 and 19 in January 2019.

While Deputy Chief Mark Francisco said in his investigative bureau report that the lower homicide rate and higher homicide clearance rate (73 percent for 2020, up from 55 percent in 2019) could be credited to a number of factors, Garrett emphasized more police as the ongoing solution to the current homicide rate—and speculated that Black residents of Kansas City would agree with him.

“Unfortunately, right now, with our homicides here today, in the month of January, we've got about 82 percent African Americans. 82 percent of homicides in one month. It's not my neighborhood, right? Not mine. Police haven't been called to my house since I've lived there 15 years. You know, it's in these areas of town that carry greater risk, those are the ones who are getting most affected by this. If you were to poll them, I suspect law enforcement, support for our police would be pretty damn high. That's what I think. I think it'd be pretty high. They don't up, show up hold signs in their hands, and they don't have bullhorns, but they support the men and women of this department.”

Activists like Steve Young, one of the leaders of the weekly protest outside KCPD headquarters on Friday nights, disagree.

“The Black and brown communities are so tired of being terrorized by Kansas City Police, and not one of you being held accountable. There is no leadership in that building,” he said at the February 5 protest.

Kansas City’s 2019-2020 Citizen Survey data also shows overall satisfaction with KCPD falling consistently since 2014 (vi).

Garrett said residents have told him they’re afraid to express support for the police department. Reverend Darron Edwards expressed similar concerns about public sentiment toward police, noting that Getting to the Heart of the Matter is working to raise funding and expand programming in light of “the vitriolic remarks that were shared, said to our men and women in blue, who stood during the protests on the plaza, knowing that we are facing in a couple of weeks, the beginning of the trial with George Floyd and perhaps similar outcomes from that trial.”

Only one member of the community, Morgan Rainey, offered public comment. He expressed support for police and for Chief Rick Smith, noting that his sister is an officer and that he admired her work.

“I want people to be thrilled to become police officers like my sister,” he said. Rainey also stated his concern about cuts to the budget.

Draft policy for body cams would not require recording during protests

Commissioner and Treasurer Cathy Dean and Mayor Quinton Lucas pushed back on first readings of two draft policies (Project #1322 and 1323) regarding the use of body-worn cameras, which the department is rolling out to officers. Initial drafts indicate that non-evidentiary video will be stored for 180 days—a limit Acting Deputy Chief Greg Dull said is largely due to cost constraints for storage.

Draft policies also listed exemptions for officers turning on body-worn cameras, which Lucas and Dean expressed concerns about. The exemptions included not recording first-amendment protected activities, including protests.

“That sounds to me like you've got a bunch of people about a protest, and none of the officers are using their body cameras,” Dean said. Lucas agreed, emphasizing that all official police contact should be recorded, and that policy wording should clearly set that expectation.

Smith said the draft wording was at the U.S. Department of Justice’s recommendation, and that the department would adjust wording in the next draft of the policy to come before the board.

Published on 2/23/2021

KC Tenants Demands Full Funding For The Office Of The Tenant Advocate

Press Release

2/21/2021- Kansas City, Missouri

This morning, over 35 KC Tenants leaders and allies testified in the City’s first public hearing this season, demanding $1.2 million for the Office of the Tenant Advocate and in solidarity with the KC Homeless Union.

The City’s proposed budget allocates just $111,495 to fund the Office of the Tenant Advocate, a 66% cut from last year’s already-inadequate $327,764. The proposed allocation would mean the City spends just 38 cents per Kansas City tenant on critical rights enforcement. For every $1 for tenants, the City proposes a whopping $2,340 for police.

In 2019, KC Tenants drafted and won a Tenants Bill of Rights in December 2019. The Tenants Bill of Rights became City law in June 2020. The City failed to hire advocates until October 2020. The City has failed to create a website with information on tenants rights. The City has failed to translate rights materials to ensure that every tenant can access them.

While tenants make up half of Kansas City’s residents, the City’s budget proposal does not reflect our needs. This year, in the midst of a pandemic and corresponding economic crisis, tenants need our rights enforced more than ever. KC Tenants proposed a fully funded Office of the Tenant Advocate. Read our budget proposal here.

Today, more Kansas Citians than ever before live on the streets, in motels, or out of their cars. People experiencing homelessness have unionized as of last month. The KC Homeless Union is organizing an ongoing encampment outside of City Hall, issuing demands for homes, water, and a seat at the table. Read the Homeless Union’s demands here.

Of the 42 testimonies during this morning’s budget hearing, 35 came from KC Tenants leaders and allies, despite the City’s technical difficulties that made this meeting inaccessible to most of the public. KC Tenants plans to return to the next hearing, next week.

“The thing about laws? If you don’t fund their implementation, you can’t enforce them. If you don’t enforce them, they don’t matter, said KC Tenants leader Jenay Manley. “A budget is a moral document. What’s clear from this proposed budget is that this City cares more about private property, profits, and the police that protect those profits, than they care about a human life, and certainly more than they care about tenants.”

“This City keeps putting a bandaid on a bullet wound. If you care about responsible spending, fund the Office of the Tenant Advocate. Funding to protect tenant rights is a proactive strategy. It can help keep tenants in their homes. Are you with the people? Or are you busy with something else?,” said KC Tenants leader Diane Charity.

“Tenants in Kansas City are disproportionately Black and brown. The communities impacted by COVID are disproportionately Black and brown. The communities brutalized at the hands of the police are disproportionately Black and brown. The Mayor, City Council, and City Manager are making a statement: You would rather invest in the systems that are hurting us than the systems that could heal us,” said KC Tenants leader Tiana Caldwell.

“Two days ago, this Council said resources were abundant enough to give the rich kids a $36 million soccer complex. Today, this Council says that resources are scarce enough to require a 66% cut to the Office of the Tenant Advocate. Abundance for the rich, scarcity for the poor,” said KC Tenants leader Emerson Hays.

“The City keeps pouring money into services. Those shelters you spend our money on? They’re in the business of staying in business. We, the homeless, have our own demands. And y’all have a problem, cuz the homeless have a voice,” said Qadhafi Shelby, a leader with KC Tenants and the KC Homeless Union.

Published on: 2/21/2021

'I See Them Leveling Up': The Scott Eicke Warming Center

Anna Stelmach

2/13/2021- Kansas City, Missouri

Cots set up at the Scott Eicke Warming Center inside the Kansas City Convention Center in Kansas City, Missouri

Photo by Anna Stelmach

“I’m homeless due to COVID,” T* explained through his mask, trying to stay awake after many prior sleepless nights. “I felt like my landlord was out to get me. I was put out in August,.”

A month or two later, he explained, that the same landlord was gone. T said that while he never signed a document in agreement with COVID-19-related guidelines, he was displaced due to “breaking the rules,” which his landlord alleged had been posted in a communal area of his apartment building.

Another man, W* now experiencing houselessness for three and a half years, described staying in a friend’s truck the night before; however, he “hardly slept” due to the freezing cold. Both men found themselves at the Scott Eicke Warming Center, learning about it “by word of mouth.”

On the early evening of January 14, within an hour of receiving approval from members of Kansas City, Missouri City Council and Parks and Recreation and after advocating for days, Anton Washington, founder and director of Creative Innovative Entrepreneurs, opened the Scott Eicke Warming Center inside the gymnasium of the Garrison Community Center. Within the first week, the center was seeing people lined up outside the door at 6 p.m. as it opened.

Whether guests came to seek refuge and warmth, to be able to sleep more comfortably at night, or to receive the two or more meals per day the center provided, the center rapidly filled with Kansas City residents experiencing houselessness.

Washington’s goal was clear: he wanted to see no more deaths caused by the dropping temperatures. The center was named in honor of Scott Eicke, a man who, over the weekend of New Year’s, died from hypothermia after a recent camp sweep—stripping him and others of their property needed to survive such harsh weather conditions.

Since its inception, the Scott Eicke Warming Center has been “run by activists who fight for the rights of all people,” stated Sheryl Ferguson, founder of ItsTime4Justice. She said the same activists who occupied City Hall over the summer, alongside many individuals experiencing houselessness, where a sense of “comradery was created, because they were on the grounds with us.” She said the occupation created a drive for actions aimed at community outreach.

Many guests at the warming center said they have felt safe staying there. One guest, A*, noted that, in addition to limited capacity as a result of COVID-19, he had experienced discrimination at many established shelters in the city. Many people “aren’t allowed in” because of difficulty with substance use, or even due to one’s sexual orientation or gender expression, he explained. A, after experiencing houselessness for about ten years, notes that “it’s gotten worse in the last five years,” and that staff at particular shelters can assume someone’s sexual orientation or occupants may be encouraged “to point people out” who do not identify as heterosexual, thus not allowing them to access shelter. He stressed the need for city officials to begin tackling the houselessness crisis in Kansas City.

Warming Center Expands, Moves Locations

After over two weeks of operating, volunteers realized that the physical capacity of the Warming Center was not substantial enough to meet the needs of those seeking refuge. In particular, they faced difficulty adhering to social distancing and COVID-19 protocols, despite approval to waive these safety protocols by City Manager Brian Platt. Instead, after ongoing advocacy by Washington and his team, city officials granted permission for the center to move locations.

On January 29, the warming center moved to Bartle Hall. As a result of this move, the Scott Eicke Warming Center has been able to accommodate the needs of the city to temporarily address the housing and houselessness crisis in Kansas City, by ensuring safety, warmth, shelter and food during freezing temperatures.

The center is still a temporary solution, activists point out, and many occupants have expressed interest in more stable housing. Many individuals staying at the warming center self-identify as veterans, such as E*, who had served with the military for years, before returning home to be met with barriers to care. Although more veterans are housed today, there remain racial disparities for those accessing services. While at the Scott Eicke Warming Center, E, a Black man, connected with was introduced to the Community Veterans Project for the first time.; he expressed excitement as he grabbed his phone to call for an appointment, as he “had never heard of this before.”

Unhoused individuals who experience difficulty with mental health or co-occurring substance use, are often limited with resources. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these barriers, or even caused houselessness. Even someone like K*, who has been sober for several years, explained how he had lost his long-term job in the restaurant industry due to the pandemic. He stated that he is able to work, but has been unable to secure employment, despite having “put in applications to three jobs” earlier that day.

Many of those who have been turned to the streets after being released from prison also face barriers to housing.

For example, one man, J, stated that he was released from prison, given five dollars, a pair of shoes that were too small and a one-way train ticket from Springfield all the way to Kansas City. J said he had hoped to go a shorter distance, to a town only an hour outside of Springfield, to reunite with his family and his support network. Instead, he is now trying to gather funds to get himself there on his own.

Many guests have described the heartbreak of watching luxury housing and apartments being built all over the city. They have simultaneously expressed the need to access vital resources, including lower income housing, to be able to resolve these issues within the city.

Yet, the volunteers and activists who have dedicated many sleepless nights, as well as their own unpaid labor, resources and money, said they plan to continue advocating for the people both within and beyond the warming center.

“As we grow with each other, we learn from each other,” Washington explained. He said he is “sick and tired of living in a city that feels like we [the people] are less than, because they [city officials] hold higher positions.”

As he spoke about the houseless guests whom he, volunteers and activists have helped keep warm and fed, he stressed the importance of coming together as a community to see actual change. “My life has been changed because of them,” he said.“We cannot overlook them.”

Troy Robertson, community activist and founder of HONK and one of the leaders at the Scott Eicke Warming Center, seeks to end houselessness in Kansas City.

“I play a major role because I’m a part of this houseless community . . . [and] been helping the homeless for a very long time,.” he said. He explained that, for several years, he has “been feeding and clothing the homeless everyday during my protests” for peace and to end police brutality.

Robertson sees “change for my community. I see people that were never given the chance to voice their opinion--for help they need.” He says the only barriers to his mission are the “people thinking they know what [the] houseless community needs, instead of actually having somebody know what’s needed out here.”

“I have a passion for seeing my [houseless] community do something different. Something that makes us stand out for the better of the world, because everybody needs a little help,” Robertson stated. “I see them leveling up.”

*This story uses initials in place of names to protect the privacy of the individuals who shared their stories with us.

Published on: 2/14/2021

‘My current address is 414 East 12th Street, City Hall, homeless at large’: Organizer Speaks on Homeless Union

Andrei Stoica

2/5/2021- Kansas City, Missouri

The Kansas City Homeless Union in Kansas City, Missouri is continuing its occupation in front of City Hall into its second week. Qadhafi, who led the efforts to unionize the homeless of Kansas City, explained the unionization and occupation in an interview on February 5:

“I started asking people at different camps around the city to set a date for a meeting on the 28th...to meet up here, and we went and picked a lot of people up, brought them up before the meeting and we initiated a homeless union, so we could stop being extorted and exploited by other people that (are) saying they're doing something for us and was talking about (how) they fixing us and ain't doing a damn thing, you know, and that's just it.

I mean, everybody except the homeless has been invited to the round table to do something on our behalf, except us. And the people that they called into the round table to fix us don't even know us. They never been to no homeless camps. They scared of us. We come down the street, and they go the other way. And they, I mean, ain't no other way of putting it except they just like using us to game the system.

And since we don't have a voice collectively, they can do that, because we separated, divided, despised by everybody. And so we came together on common terms to create our own union and join what's right for ourselves and forbid what's wrong. And now, collectively, we have a voice, and so based on that, we're gonna be speaking for ourselves, you know, based on, nobody is influencing us outside of people that's walking in our shoes.

Anybody who got a place to live, and go home every day, and not out here on these streets, you know, I mean, they can't tell us how to fix us. We don't need no intercessor or go-between to do nothing.

Everybody keeps saying they giving other people money to fix us or to take care--the mayor, the city council. They say they did about $8,000 this year on this warming shelter, I mean this warming booth, that ain't working, ‘cause some of the people over here is coming from up here at this Bartle Hall thing, and they prefer to come out here in the cold than to be there. And $7 million to these homeless shelters--with $7 million ain't nobody trying to fix the homeless problem. With $7 million and over 10,000 homes, I mean, empty homes in Kansas City that's not doing nothing, $7 million will get every homeless person in Kansas City a home and get the home upgraded so it could pass city inspection, and the city even own water, so they could give us six months of free water, during this COVID thing that they say they trying to cure, that they say is a national emergency, but ain't nobody trying to fix the problem.

When they put us in hotels, it don't benefit us. There ain't nobody and no homeless camp that I know, even the camp that Sixx died at, ain't nobody from that camp been in no hotel or nobody that nobody knows, so basically they putting probably their grandkids or people that they know sleeping on the couch or whatever in hotels, ‘cause (it) ain't nobody on the street. All of us still out here, you know, and that's not solving the problem anyway. but when they do that, we don't benefit.

Even if they put us in the hotel for a few days, we still would be homeless, you know, and that's like, I mean there's some dumbass shit that they're doing. And they say they doing it in the name of us, and they not talking to us or asking us. We closer to the problem. We closer to the solution.

And if you ask us, we would go simply buy homes, get them upgraded, you know, to pass inspection, and even hire some of the homeless people to help renovate them. And that would solve the problem.

But ain't trying to do that, or they ain't trying to do that. When they put us in hotels, the hotels benefit, not us. When they talk about programs to fix us, ain't nobody fixing us. We ain't broke. The motherfucking system broke. You know what I'm saying? And they just giving each other money, passing it along.

You know, and they're doing it in the name of us, and all we saying is we got a voice, and we're gonna use it. And as soon as we unionize, we was going to occupy City Hall because, like other people that was doing this, we ain't got nowhere else to go.

We're already homeless, you know, and so based on that, all we're gonna do is keep recruiting more people to come here to this, you know, this is our house. And so we're gonna live here. My current address is 414 East 12th Street, City Hall, homeless at large.”

Per an announcement from Kansas City Homeless United on Friday night, February 5, power to the camp had been shut off, then later restored. The camp was requesting a generator to be able to ensure power given the freezing temperatures projected for the upcoming week.

Published on: 2/6/2021

Crisis at KU: GTAC Stands in Solidarity Against More Cuts, More Pain

2/2/2021- Lawrence, Kansas

LAWRENCE, Kansas - GTAC (Graduate Teaching Assistants Coalition, AFT-KS Local 6403) is protesting several recent University of Kansas administrative decisions in solidarity with professors, staff, and undergraduates from KU on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021 outside of Allen Fieldhouse before the basketball game.

The Kansas Board of Regents approved a policy on Jan. 20th allowing Kansas public universities to suspend tenure and therefore have an increased ability to fire professors and staff. KU is the only public university considering utilizing the policy.

KU presented their counter proposals on economics which included a pay freeze for two years and no reduction of fees. GTAs (graduate teaching assistants) make $17,750 (before taxes) a year to teach at a R-1 state flagship university where out-of-state tuition is over $28,000, where the chancellor makes $650,000 a year, and where our endowment is well over $1 billion dollars. GTAs deserve to be compensated commensurate with our essential labor.

On Jan. 12th, a high-level administrator told a Zoom town hall of 300 people that those who are not treated with the respect they deserve should just leave instead of trying to make KU a better place for all, but especially for people of color. GTAC whole-heartedly opposes this claim. This town hall was called by Student Senate in response to KU “reorganizing” the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion unit, which among many other things resulted in the week-before-Christmas firing of two well-liked staff members while simultaneously creating a new administrative position. You can read GTAC ‘s statement here.

This so-called “budget crisis” predates the pandemic. However, the problems before, during, and after the pandemic do not justify unilaterally overriding shared governance and systematically devaluing our institution and our degrees.

Workers at the University of Kansas need and deserve shared governance, job security, better pay and benefits, and to not experience racism. Everyone must understand the urgency of this situation and work together to demand a better university for all.

Published on: 2/2/2021

City Council Votes on Affordable Housing, Permanent Housing for Houseless Population, Vaccine Distribution, More

Rebecca Bayley

1/28/2021- Kansas City, Missouri

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas at a previous city council meeting

Photo by Andrei Stoica

The Kansas City, Missouri City Council passed several resolutions and ordinances related to housing and houselessness during its regular meeting on Thursday, January 28. Per Kansas City, Missouri legislative proceedings, all new ordinances will go into effect eight days following passage.

Affordable Housing Policy

The council discussed Ordinance 201038, “Requiring that projects which are primarily residential in nature and are seeking economic incentives in the nature of the capture and redirection, abatement or exemption of taxes or other City financing contain a minimum number of affordable housing units.”

Councilwoman Andrea Bough, Vice Chair of the Neighborhood Planning & Development Committee, elaborated on the specific requirements: “Any multifamily housing development project of more than 10 units that seeks incentives would be required to set aside 10 percent of those units at 70 percent Area Median Income (AMI) and 10 percent at 30 percent AMI.”

This affordable housing measure is significant for low-to-moderate income families in Kansas City, Missouri because the development of affordable housing--defined as housing in which a household spends no more than 30% of their income on housing costs, including utilities--is typically not highly profitable for developers. For this and other reasons, there is a steep shortage of affordable housing throughout the country. As a stopgap measure, local, state, and federal governments try to provide incentives for developers to lower the price tag on new units they construct.

During the January 28 meeting, Mayor Quinton Lucas offered an amendment to the affordable housing ordinance, which among other things exempts projects that are receiving Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) and projects involving historic buildings from the requirement. The amendment also states that projects that have already applied for incentives “aren’t subject to the ordinance if they received final written award within three years of the effective date.” The effective date was set by this amendment at April 8, 2021.

In speaking to the amendment, Lucas referred to “housing advocates” who have asked for the city to “have a stronger commitment to the provision of affordable housing.” He said these advocates supported ordinances in 2017 and 2018 relating to affordable housing but that those ordinances in some cases were inadequate. “It is time to commit for this city to progress on affordable housing,” Lucas said in closing his comments.

Permanent Housing for Houseless Population

The Council also passed a resolution that asks the Parks and Recreation Department to “assess their land” for a possible site to establish “permanent municipal housing for homeless.” The Department would report back in 90 days with their findings.

Although the dangers faced by people experiencing houselessness are ongoing, after the exposure-related deaths of two Kansas City citizens this winter, local groups have pointed to regular sweeps conducted by the city as a key component of the problem. The city has not responded to inquiries regarding whether sweeps they conducted could have been causes of these deaths.

Parks are among the places people without a place to stay tend to gather. Some have reasoned that people who need a space to set up camp should be able to camp in parks because others are not likely to be using the space, especially during the winter and at night.

The resolution for permanent housing for houseless people on city parklands was initiated by Council member Brandon Ellington, Vice Chair of the Special Committee on Housing Policy.

Task Force to Coordinate Services for Houseless Population

The Council also passed a resolution to convene a “Homelessness Task Force” to coordinate and improve services for houseless people. Council member Ellington cited the “need for better coordination” among the nearly two dozen agencies citywide that provide services for houseless people.

The Mayor will nominate the members of the proposed task force, with the following requirements:

  • Two City Council members

  • Parks and Recreation Department representatives

  • Police Department representatives

  • Neighborhood and Housing Services Department representatives

  • Health Department representatives

  • “Any other related document or external agency,” according to Ellington

The City Manager will also be asked to work with the task force. The task force is directed to convene its first meeting before February 12, 2021.

Vaccine Distribution Task Force

The Council also passed a resolution relating to vaccine distribution that would establish a task force to distribute the vaccine in partnership with the Health Department and other public health organizations. Missouri has been noted in the media in recent weeks for its failure to distribute vaccines quickly.

Other Topics

The Council also accepted a federal grant on behalf of Rose Brooks, which works to prevent domestic violence. Some debate ensued in the Council meeting as to whether the city approves pass-through funding and technical assistance to a wide enough variety of organizations; Council member Ellington emphasized the need for the city to provide such partnership to smaller grassroots organizations that don’t have the resources to apply for essential or capacity-building funding.

Other items passed during the January meeting included:

  • Extension of paid leave for city employees needing to quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure or contraction

  • Extension for small business license renewal payments

  • Approval of contracts to perform aerial mapping to assist in planning city infrastructure projects

  • Acceptance and amendment of two grant awards relating to preparation for epidemics

  • Amendments to contracts with vendors engaged on development projects

  • Appropriation of funds (over $14M) to provide rental assistance to families impacted by COVID-19, as discussed in Legislative Session.

  • Authorization of the use of HOME and CDBG funds for mixed-income housing development

  • Authorization of funds for a blight study in the Santa Fe neighborhood

Previous to the council meeting, In the January Legislative Session included a presentation from John Wood, Director of the city’s Neighborhood and Housing Services Department. Wood provided detail about the $14M in new federal funding for rent and utility assistance, including:

  • 90% of the funding must be used for direct assistance to COVID-19 impacted families at or below 80% AMI.

  • “Rent or utility assistance” is defined as payment of rent or utility costs (including home energy costs, trash removal, and utilities covered by the landlord, but not including phone, internet, cable, or cell phone bills)

  • 10% of the funding will be eligible to cover administrative costs for the city in distributing the funding

  • The funding will mainly be applied through social service providers such as United Way of Greater Kansas City and Community Development Corporation (CDC) partners.

  • Households may receive up to 12 months of consecutive assistance dating back to March, 2020, and may be considered for up to three months of additional assistance depending on their circumstances.

  • Landlords, utility companies, or tenants may apply for the funding for a given unit, but no more than one party may apply for funding on the same unit

  • Council member Teresa Loar expressed concern that tenants are able to apply for funding directly, noting that, if the money is not disbursed directly to landlords and utility companies, “the money might not go to the landlord”; Wood responded that there are guidelines in place to ensure the money is applied to bills as intended.

Any member of the public can attend City Council meetings in person or review the proceedings online on the city’s website or YouTube channel. Recordings of most meetings are archived at: http://kansascity.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=2

Published on: 2/2/2021

In Memoriam: Scott “Sixx” Eicke

Brynn Fitzsimmons

1/23/2021- Kansas City, Missouri

Sixx (right, in green shirt) and Debo with Free Hot Soup volunteer Kendra Lawrence (left, in blue scrubs) while getting veterinary care for Debo at Northland Animal Welfare Society (NAWS) in June 2019.

Photo by Kendra Lawrence, used with permission.

“He was just a guy with a dog trying to live his best life,” is how one friend, Kendra Lawrence, described Scott “Sixx” Eicke, who died from exposure on January 1, 2021. His body was found in the snow during New Year’s Day’s snowstorm, just hours after protesters gathered outside Mayor Quinton Lucas’ house demanding a stop to sweeps of houseless camps—like the ones where Sixx lived—especially during the coldest weeks of the year.

Although the city has downplayed recent sweeps and said that they do not take belongings from houseless individuals, houseless advocacy groups like Kansas City Homeless United have pushed back, citing continued sweeps and issuing demands from houseless individuals for better response and service from the city. Other activists, led by Creative Innovative Entrepreneurs, started the Scott Eicke Warming Center, which is providing overnight shelter, meals, and other services to houseless individuals at 1124 E. 5th Street, KCMO 64106. Currently, the center is open 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. on any day that is below 32 degrees.

Sixx’s ex-wife, Michelle Eicke, said she hopes that sharing Sixx’s story will help Kansas City better understand and be able to help people experiencing houselessness. And, she said she hopes the city will “cut through the red tape” that prevents people like Sixx from getting services.

“This is a needless death. Nobody deserves to die by freezing to death,” she said.

Michelle explained that while Sixx would have been glad for warming centers and better resources for those experiencing houselessness, he himself was a quiet, reserved animal lover who never wanted to stand out but always found ways to show love to those he cared about.

His stepson, Carlos Glasgow, agreed, and said he remembers Sixx’s “unwavering spirit.”

“He was really just there for us,” Glasgow said.

Glasgow is holding a fundraiser stream via Twitch on January 31, 2021, from 12 p.m. to midnight. He and his friend will be streaming a full playthrough of Borderlands. The fundraiser will benefit Kansas City Heroes, which offers a variety of services to individuals in Kansas City, including those experiencing houselessness. He said he and Sixx used to play video games together often—especially the Call of Duty and God of War games—and he feels like doing a stream is something Sixx would appreciate.

Lawrence, a volunteer with Free Hot Soup KC, is also working on a fundraiser to honor one of Sixx’s passions: animals. She is raising funds in collaboration with NAWS and Angel Hearts to provide veterinary care and other resources for the pets of houseless individuals.

“He had a lot of love to give,” she said of Sixx. “He was really quiet, but when it really counted, he really did care.”

Seth Thompson, a family friend, agreed. “If you needed anything, he would be the first person to give it to you,” he said of Sixx. “I want everybody to know he had the biggest heart I’ve ever seen.”

Sixx and Debo help Free Hot Soup volunteers transport and hand out supplies at houseless camps after getting veterinary care for Debo at NAWS in June 2019.

Photo by Kendra Lawrence, used with permission.

Animal Lover

While Sixx often came off quiet and reserved in conversations, his relationship with animals was quite the opposite. “He would do anything to try to avoid conversations—except that dog,” Michelle said.

“That dog” referred to Debo, a pit bull Sixx had found and adopted. Once, when Sixx was arrested while walking with his bicycle because he “matched the description of somebody who stole a bicycle,” as Lawrence explained it, the police took Sixx and left Debo on the sidewalk. Lawrence said Debo paced the spot, waiting for Sixx to come back, until Free Hot Soup volunteers found her and picked her up. After police released Sixx, calling the incident a “misunderstanding,” according to Lawrence, Sixx and Debo were reunited.

Lawrence said Debo was in some ways the start of her friendship with Sixx. She said when she and other Free Hot Soup volunteers came to serve meals, Sixx and Debo would both come, and Sixx would always share his meals with the pit bull.

“He was really quiet, and he would take specifically what he wanted, and go and sit and eat by himself with his dog… I would see him, you know, feeding his dog off his own plate,” she said.

Lawrence, who herself works in the veterinary field and said she often comes across people who mistreat animals, said she was struck by Sixx’s kindness and attention to Debo. She began offering dog food and, eventually, other supplies. She was also able to work with NAWS to get veterinary care for Debo. When they went to take Debo to the vet, however, Lawrence said Sixx insisted on going with. She said she and another Free Hot Soup volunteer ended up driving around all day with Sixx and another houseless friend of theirs, Felix, passing out supplies and singing in the car at the top of their lungs.

Eventually, Sixx started asking Lawrence for supplies for other animals, including a dog named Princess. Lawrence said she assumed Princess was another dog in one of the houseless camps—only to find out, later, that Sixx was taking supplies to Michelle’s home for the dog he had rescued years prior.

“Whenever stuff got rough, he would always make sure my family was fed and the dogs were fed,” Glasgow explained.

Thompson said Sixx had a particular love for pit bulls. “He absolutely loved animals, especially pit bulls, because he felt like they were misunderstood,” he said. “He understood that all they wanted to do was be loved.”

According to Glasgow, it wasn’t even just dogs; Sixx loved all kinds of animals. Glasgow recalled one Fourth of July when he and his family were stopped at a traffic light and saw a kitten walking across the street. Michelle had Sixx go get the kitten, and they brought it home.

“He’s allergic to cats, and he didn’t really like cats at all,” Glasgow explained. “(But) once I started nursing the kitten back to health, I would just see them sleeping together and stuff, and him just being sweet on the cat that he supposedly hated.”

“He still tried to pretend he didn’t like cats,” Glasgow added.

Glasgow said he and his sister would often find stray animals and bring them home, knowing that Sixx would always agree to let them stay. Michelle said the oldest dog she currently has, Princess, is another of Sixx’s rescues.

“(She) was caged in someone’s basement,” Michelle said. “She wasn’t potty trained or anything like that, and he took the time not only to do that but to teach the kids how to do it, and that—that was Scott.”

“He Was a Fighter His Whole Life.”

Michelle said Sixx first experienced houselessness in his teen years, in Omaha, Nebraska, where he had grown up. “He had to learn to survive, and that was…his mistrust of people pretty much started at that point,” she said. “He was not a very trusting person. That was kind of his safeguard, was just to not trust anybody. He trusted animals. He would trust his dog. But he would never trust people.”

Michelle explained Sixx was adopted into his stepfather’s family at an early age and struggled with the dynamics of being Black in a predominantly white family. Michelle said Sixx quickly tired of questions about why he was in a predominantly white space, why he had a German last name, or “how tall are you?” Eventually, he found ways to avoid some of those questions, going by “Sixx”—a reference to his height—instead of his stepfather’s last name.

“(He would always say) don’t hurt yourself; just call me Sixx,” Michelle explained. “It was just easier, because he didn’t like to have, (as) he would call them, stupid conversations about his height.”

She said he learned early in his life not to trust people and to try to avoid conversations, questions, and the discrimination and racism that often came with them.

From early childhood to experiencing houselessness as a teenager to struggles moving between Omaha and Kansas City, Michelle said Sixx was always fighting to survive—and that he helped her survive houselessness, too.

“He went through strides to make sure that (what happened to him as a child) never, ever happened to another child,” she said.

“He was on his way to trying to make himself better, but after 41 years of pure torture, it was hard,” she said. “He was a fighter his whole life. He fought for everything.”

Coming to Kansas City

It was Sixx who brought the family to Kansas City, Michelle explained. At the time, she was struggling with a drug addiction, and he wanted to get her out of that environment. She said he helped her get her children out of the foster care system as she and Sixx were getting on their feet. Eventually, he stayed at home with them while she worked.

“He was my stepdad, but he was living with us for so long that he was our dad,” Glasgow explained. “It was just normal, which is what I’d been wanting since me and my sister were in foster care for so long.”

Michelle said that Sixx always pushed education, and tried to be involved in whatever way he could. School had been difficult for Sixx, even though Michelle said he was always good at numbers. However, by the time he was recruited by a college to play basketball, she said he still could barely read. Once he injured his knee and could no longer play, she said he dropped out and never went back to school.

“He was one of the children that got left behind,” she said. “For most of his adult life, you know, he was scared of taking his GED, but he was a brilliant man.”

“He really was interested in teaching me a lot about just, life, and sort of the kind of man that I was supposed to be, even though he kind of lacked in some of those areas, and I felt like those were really genuine actions,” Glasgow said.

Thompson said Sixx’s kindness changed his life. He met Sixx and Michelle shortly after moving to Kansas City from Texas. He was houseless in the middle of December, and he said he found few avenues for assistance in Kansas City.

“I was hungry, and I was struggling real bad, and Carlos picked me up and called Sixx and Michelle, and he asked them if I could move in with them,” he explained. “(Sixx) just immediately made me feel comfortable...I felt like I finally had a family.”

Thompson said he remembers arriving at Sixx and Michelle’s house and Sixx asking what size clothes and shoes he wore. He said he and Sixx were a similar size, and Sixx went to his room and got clothes and shoes for him.

“He basically legitimately gave me the clothes off his back...he sat there and consoled me while I was crying,” he said. “It was definitely one of those life-changing moments.”

He said he and Sixx would spend hours talking about their pasts, having shared similar backgrounds and struggles, including becoming houseless around the same age.

“He just told me I wasn’t alone,” Thompson said. “He didn’t judge me for anything.”

Sixx’s care for those around him extended to his neighbors in the houseless camps, too. Lawrence recalled several times where Sixx would ask her and the other Free Hot Soup volunteers to check on a woman in the camp who has schizophrenia, especially if she was having a difficult day and wouldn’t come to get supplies on her own.

“He always watched out for her, because she was kind of easy for somebody to take advantage of, or to not ask for things because she was scared,” Lawrence explained. “And so you have to interact with her differently and be more quiet and kind of ground her to understand what's going on. And so he always watched out for her.”

“Even though it seems as though he has a rough experience, once you get to know him, you sort of understand that he acts in a way that protects the ones he loved,” Glasgow said of his stepdad. “And even when he has all those issues plaguing him, even when he messes up, when he wants to do something or wants to be there for someone, he will—period.”

Barriers to Housing

Unfortunately, Sixx’s love of animals also meant he had difficulties finding shelter at times. Most shelters in Kansas City don’t allow pets, Lawrence explained. At one point, she said Sixx camped outside a shelter in Kansas City because he wouldn’t leave Debo alone. He would go inside to get warm or to eat, but stayed outside.

Nor are pets the only barrier to finding shelter. Lawrence said anything from too many misdemeanors—including those from, for example, stealing food when there are no other options—to lack of comprehensive supports for transitioning from houselessness to housing to shelters’ constrictive rules often lead to people not being able to find shelter of any kind, and certainly not long term.

Michelle also noted the challenges that many shelters and other service providers pose when they demand that everyone deal with trying to get housing in the same way.

“What kind of rules are you going to have to follow that I'm not going to be comfortable with? Because right now, I'm kind of in my own shell and my own little world where I'm the boss. Now, you want me to live under some kind of control, (and) I'm not sure how I feel like that because I've been out of control before, and I've been in control, and in control feels better. I mean, I can only imagine that's what he was thinking,” she said.

But perhaps one of the most substantial difficulties Sixx and other houseless individuals faced were camp sweeps. Michelle explained that being houseless already placed massive emotional and mental demands on someone, with a constant worry about where to sleep, where to shower, how to get food and other supplies, how to charge a phone to be able to stay connected with loved ones, and other concerns. Sweeps, however, could remove any sense of stability in an instant.

“He just said that (if) he went to sleep or (go) do something, if he left anything behind, it was gone,” Michelle said.

Although city officials and employees have insisted the city does not take houseless individuals’ possessions and that they offer shelter and other services when sweeping camps, Lawrence said the reports she hears from other houseless individuals are different.

“What they’d do is they’d just, like, bulldoze it. Like literally, everything's gone,” she said. “You would have never guessed that anybody was living there. And they just completely bulldoze everything…all their supplies, it’s just like a little wall in the ground.”

Lawrence said she doesn’t refer to these events as sweeps; she calls them raids.

“And then you have the police officers who are standing there, then they watch the city do their whole thing,” she said. “So that's why I call them raids: because if you were in your home, and the police are standing there and letting the city go through and take all your belongings, what would that feel like?”

Glasgow said he remembers reading about his father’s death, including the response from the city which noted that camping is not allowed in parks.

“I don’t understand, because I’m like, even if it wasn’t homeless camps, why are you trying to push these people out of something that isn’t even a complete shelter when people don’t even go to city parks 1) in the middle of a pandemic and 2) in the middle of fucking winter?” he said.

“I didn’t know how to interpret it any other way than the city just 100% not caring,” he said. “It felt like my dad’s identity was being erased.”

Michelle said one of the last messages she received from Sixx read, “I feel like the city is trying to kill us. They’re not doing a whole lot for homeless people.”

Sixx feeds his dog, Debo. Lawrence recalled that Debo never wanted to wear the safety vest Sixx tried to keep on her so that she would be visible at night.

Photo by Kendra Lawrence, used with permission.

Permanent Solutions

Thompson said that while Sixx’s death came as a shock, he also sees what happened as connected to longstanding problems in Kansas City.

“He made it sound like everything was okay...He didn’t really talk about his problems to other people. I feel like he didn’t want to bother them or hurt anybody’s feelings,” he said, explaining his last conversation with Sixx, about a week and a half before Sixx died. “(But) this isn’t a new problem in Kansas City. This isn’t something that happened overnight. I don’t feel like the city is doing enough.”

Glasgow agreed. “Scott was loved, so even though he was homeless at the time, he wasn’t going to stay that way,” he said. “(But) I’m thinking about other people that probably don’t have stuff that was already being put in motion (for Scott).”

Glasgow said that while he appreciates the work of activists, it’s the city he holds responsible for the lack of resources for the unhoused in Kansas City.

“I haven’t seen anything good from the city that the city actually put their name on,” he said. “Why do activists have to put something together on their own? The only reason activists are a thing is people in power showing that they don’t care, so instead of leaving it to the activists to do something, take the reins.”

“The same people that think paying for hotels is solving the problem are the same kinds of people that don’t think homeless people should be able to camp in parks at least in the middle of the winter,” he said. “Those kinds of solutions appeal to people that just don’t want to look at these human beings.”

The solutions for situations like Scott’s, Glasgow said, aren’t in city hall—but city hall needs to listen.

“If you’ve never been homeless and struggling, then you are 100 percent not qualified to manage homeless or struggling people,” he said. “Instead of having a conversation with people who can afford to take showers and live in a home…ask the people who actually need the help what they want. That’s the easiest way to both show that you care and get the job done.”

Published on: 1/23/2021

KC Tenants Call for Local Judge to End Evictions

Rebecca Bayley

1/19/2021- Kansas City, Missouri

Protesters with KC Tenants hang a banner outside the home of Judge Kyndra Stockdale on Tuesday, January 19, demanding she put a stop to evictions on the docket in her courtroom.

Photo by Andrei Stoica

Kansas City activist group KC Tenants led a protest in front of Judge Kyndra Stockdale’s house Tuesday night, demanding that evictions be halted until the end of the pandemic.

About 60 protesters met in a nearby parking lot and marched through the Mission Hills neighborhood, chanting: “Judge Stockdale, where do you stand? The people are dying. You have blood on your hands.”

Organizers with KC Tenants say the protest focused on Judge Stockdale - an associate circuit judge in Independence, Missouri - because she has evicted more tenants than many other judges in the Kansas City metro. According to a press release issued by KC Tenants on January 19, 2021, Stockdale has heard 835 eviction cases since June of 2020 and “issued formal eviction judgments against more than 361 tenants.”

KC Tenants Director Tara Raghuveer also pointed to Judge Stockdale’s role in the injury of Blue Springs resident Donald Smith, who was shot three times by Jackson County court deputies during an eviction in early January.

“[Stockdale] is the judge,” Raghuveer said, “who issued a judgment …that resulted in him getting shot during his eviction.”

Tuesday’s protest is part of a larger effort on the part of KC Tenants. “Here in Kansas City, the CDC moratorium didn’t stop evictions,” said a KC Tenants leader who identified herself as Sierra. “The pressure we’ve been able to finally apply to these judges has made a difference in Jackson County.”

KC Tenants also rallied in front of Judge Dale Youngs’ house on January 8 to demand an “end to eviction violence.”

Several days later, Youngs issued an administrative order delaying eviction summons, hearings and writs of execution until January 24, 2021.

Raghuveer says KC Tenant’s demands on Tuesday were that evictions in Kansas City, Missouri be halted “indefinitely.”

“We don’t know when the pandemic’s going to be over,” she said, “so there’s no point putting an arbitrary end date on there.”

After arriving at Judge Stockdale’s home, protesters stood on the lawn in front of the building with signs calling for Stockdale and other judges to stop evictions.

While they stood on the lawn, several protesters spoke about the need for secure housing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Tiana Caldwell, a KC Tenants leader, talked about how her brother died after contracting COVID-19 in jail. According to Caldwell, he had been taken off probation in December of 2020 “for not having a permanent address.”

“My brother’s story,” Caldwell said, “is the story of so many of us who are insecurely housed, living on the edge, forced to make impossible choices between our lives and our homes.”

Caldwell called for Judge Stockdale to petition Judge Youngs to extend his administrative order beyond January 24.

“Judge Stockdale,” Caldwell said, “My life is more important than private property… You have the power to end evictions, at least in your courtroom. You have the power to hold your colleagues accountable to do the same.”

Published on: 1/21/2021

"My Life is More Important Than My Landlord’s Profit": Local Tenant Asks for Eviction Moratorium Extension

1/19/2021- Kansas City, Missouri

Protesters with KC Tenants gather outside the home of Judge Kyndra Stockdale, demanding that she delay evictions on her courtroom docket to protect tenants following the expiration of Jackson County Circuit Court’s Presiding Judge Dale Youngs’ administrative order suspending all evictions through January 24. KC Tenants reported that Stockdale has issued the highest number of eviction orders in Jackson County during the pandemic.

Photo by Andrei Stoica

Jackson County’s 16 Circuit Court Presiding Judge Dale Youngs’ administrative order suspending eviction summons, hearings, and writs of execution for Jackson County, Missouri will expire Sunday, January 24, 2020.

The order came following protests and other direct actions from housing rights group KC Tenants, who have declared this month Zero Evictions January. Most recently, the group held a protest Tuesday, January 19 outside Judge Kyndra Stockdale’s home, demanding that Stockdale delay all evictions cases on her docket.

At an earlier protest to block evictions hearings, on January 7, tenants from around Kansas City shared their stories on the steps of the Jackson County Courthouse.

One of those tenants, Jailin, talked about the consequences of facing eviction for both himself and for his three-year-old daughter. His speech from the event, released in a KC Tenants press release, is below:

“My name is Jailin. I have an eviction case in this courthouse (on) Thursday, January 14.

When COVID hit, my hours got cut back. My hours got cut back, and I had to make a choice on what I should take care of at that moment. It was a choice between rent and food. I chose to take care of me and my baby and make sure we could eat.

I thought I could get my rent payments back right, but by the time I had some money saved up, the eviction was already in process. When the landlord hit me with it, it was for way more than I thought. It just seems like I’m in a deeper hole, deeper hole. I’m just like damn.

I’m 23. I’m out here trying to make things right. My daughter is three years old. She shouldn’t have to have this memory. She shouldn’t be in this situation.

Now I have to focus on my daughter getting a secure place to lay her head at night. She’s gone come first before anything, anytime. As a father, I feel hurt with myself. It’s hard not to feel like I messed up, I did something wrong, (or) I failed to provide.

But I know that it’s not on me. It’s on the government that went dark on all of us and left us out here, forced to make choices like the one I had to make.

Next week? If this eviction goes down? I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t know. One mark on my rental record can be really detrimental to my life. You know what I mean? There’s no way to recover. They make it so hard for you to get back right. Hoops and hurdles, phone calls, emails, a lot of more money and time … for what?

Here's what’s so crazy. PEOPLE ARE DYING. PEOPLE ARE DYING. And these landlords are like, ‘Well, even though people are dying, we still need to get this money.’

My life is more important than my landlord’s profit. Period. My daughter’s life is more important than my landlord’s profit. PERIOD.”

Published on: 1/20/2021

“I Need Your Solidarity, Kansas City”: Evicted Kansas City Tenant Asks for End to Evictions

1/7/2021- Kansas City, Missouri

Kansas City tenant Keonya (left) and KC Tenants organizer Jenay Manley (right) speak at a Zero Evictions January protest on January 7, 2021.

Photo by Andrei Stoica

Jackson County’s 16 Circuit Court Presiding Dale Youngs’ administrative order suspending eviction summons, hearings, and writs of execution for Jackson County, Missouri will expire Sunday, January 24, 2020.

The order came on the heels of multiple direct actions from housing rights group KC Tenants, who have declared this month Zero Evictions January. At a protest to block evictions hearings on January 7, tenants from around Kansas City shared their stories on the steps of the Jackson County Courthouse.

One of those tenants, Keonya, talked about the consequences of facing eviction for herself and for her four children. Her speech from the event, released in a KC Tenants press release, is below:

“My name is Keonya. I am currently homeless, living with my four children in a 2006 Impala.

I was evicted some months ago from the Blue Valley Townhomes over on 23rd. The situation was that my son’s friend got shot and ran over to our place for help. I wasn’t home. I rushed home to make sure my son’s friend survived. Everything was taped off, and the police were there.

The next day, the apartment said “you got 10 days to get out.” It didn’t matter that I saved a boy’s life. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t me or my family who brought the cops to the building. They just wanted me gone.

It was hard being forced to move during the pandemic. It was hard. It was hard. It was hard. I tried applying to live everyplace I could. No one would take me due to the recent eviction.

My kids are not okay. I’m a single parent living in a car with a 4-year-old, a 12-year-old, a 17-year-old, and a 19-year-old. It’s hard when you wake up and you don’t know where you’re going to brush your teeth and wash your butt. The kids ask me all the time: “when are we gonna get a house.” I can see the depression in my four year old daughter’s face.

If I was the judge—if I had power to end evictions—I would do it. I would stop the evictions. No questions. I would stop it. It’s a disease out here! You don’t know who got it. I can’t stay to stay healthy if I don’t have a home.

People don’t look out for you the way you look out for them. That’s the lesson I learned in 2020.

Kansas City, I need you to prove me wrong. I need you to have my back. I need you to have the backs of people like me who have been forced to the streets. I’m here to put my pride aside and say I need you. I need your solidarity, Kansas City.”

Published on: 1/19/2021

KCMO Activists Deliver Petition Calling for Senator Josh Hawley's Resignation

Andrei Stoica

1/13/2021- Kansas City, Missouri

Protesters call for Missouri Senator Josh Hawley's resignation after delivering a petition to his office in Kansas City, Missouri on January 13.

Photo by Andrei Stoica

Local Kansas City, Missouri activists from multiple organizations presented a petition on January 13 to remove Senator Josh Hawley. Hawley headed the effort to object to the Electoral College certification, an action that helped fuel the acts of insurrection and domestic terrorism that took place at the U.S. Capitol on January 6.

Ashley Johnson of Reale Justice Network said delivering the petition was a statement on Missouri’s commitment to resisting racism. “We will not accept the racism that was shown, that was displayed. Missouri won’t stand for that,” she said. “We will not stand for treason. We will not stand for any of that.”

The groups including Veterans For Peace and Our Revolution Kansas City joined Reale Justice Network across the street from the Charles Evans Whittaker Courthouse in downtown Kansas City to hand deliver the signatures to staff working for Hawley. A protest also took place with speakers voicing their demand that Hawley resign. In a statement released by Veterans for Peace they addressed not only the violence but also “a deeply entrenched and longstanding system of white supremacy.”

For Veterans for Peace, Wednesday’s protest is connected to a broader commitment to fighting white supremacy in the U.S. military.

“As veterans ourselves, we have seen how white supremacy and violence are perpetuated in the U.S. military,” they said in their statement. “The U.S. military continues to be an active recruitment tool for violent extremism and hate groups. This culture of toxicity, often fully embraced and/or condoned by military leadership continues to be a pipeline to violent right wingers, border patrol and police. We know that this pathway to violence must stop...Let's help create a community that is an alternative to bigoted violence and pursue an egalatarian solution to our common root problems.”

Drew Bergerson of Our Revolution Kansas City spoke on how Hawley’s actions supported both fascism and white supremacy.

“I am in mourning, because I'm a Jewish man, and these so called patriots wore Neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic symbols, including a shirt saying “Camp Auschwitz,” days after a Jewish man and a Black man were elected senators in the state of Georgia,” he said. “I am in mourning because my partner is a Black woman, and these white supremacists proudly flew emblems of the KKK while hoisting a noose on a gallows to hinder the legal election of the first woman of color.”

“It's time for armchair progressives and modern liberals to stop promising change in the future and get to work making the structural changes we need to protect our environment, our economy, our bodies and our society,” he added.

At the time of publication, Hawley has not made a statement about resigning despite losing the support of some of his major donors including Hallmark Cards and Commerce Bank. Hawley has also had other business partners such as the former publisher of his now canceled book distance themselves following the failed coup attempt on the Capitol.

Published on: 1/16/2021

KC Tenants Protests Jackson County Evictions Hearings

Brynn Laurel

1/7/2021- Kansas City, Missouri

Protesters gather outside Jackson County Courthouse to disrupt evictions hearings slated for January 7, 2021. The event was part of KC Tenants' Zero Evictions January initiative.

Photo by Andrei Stoica

On Thursday, January 7, KC Tenants, a multiracial housing rights advocacy group, staged an online and onsite protest against eviction cases being heard at the Jackson County Courthouse in Kansas City, Missouri. In spite of the CDC’s eviction moratorium through January 31, evictions have continued. The 16th Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri was set to hear 219 eviction cases on the Landlord/Tenant docket.

KC Tenants activists flooded the online courtrooms to disrupt eviction hearings and force delays in cases, some until next week. At the same time, a group of protesters gathered outside Jackson County Courthouse, blockading the entrance and announcing to any trying to enter, “The court is closed today.”

“If the judges won’t end evictions, we’ll do it for them, by any means necessary,” said Ameerah Sanders, a KC Tenants leader.

Several tenants shared their stories of facing eviction during a pandemic.

“When COVID hit, my hours got cut back. My hours got cut back, and I had to make a choice on what I should take care of at that moment. It was a choice between rent and food. I chose to take care of me and my baby and make sure we could eat,” said Jailin Willis, a tenant facing eviction next Thursday, January 14. “My life is more important than my landlord’s profit. Period. My daughter’s life is more important than my landlord’s profit. Period.”

“If I was the judge—if I had power to end evictions—I would do it. I would stop the evictions. No questions. I would stop it,” said Keonya McIntosh, a mother of four who was recently evicted and is currently experiencing homeless.

“Kansas City is better than this. I know it is,” said Kenneth Gobble, who was recently facing eviction after having his hours cut due to the pandemic. He has been granted an extension until the beginning of February, but said he isn’t sure what he will do then if the city does not step in with a more substantial moratorium through the end of the pandemic.

Thursday’s event was the second court disruption KC Tenants has organized in 2021, with the first being on Tuesday, January 5 in Independence, Missouri, where KC Tenants activists delayed 103 evictions on the docket for Eastern Jackson County Courthouse.

Thursday’s event kicks off KC Tenants’ “Zero Evictions January” initiative, which includes protests, rallies, email campaigns, and other advocacy work around ending evictions for residents of the Kansas City metro.

Published on: 1/8/2021

Two houseless people found dead during cold weather over New Year’s weekend in KCMO

Brynn Laurel

1/3/2021- Kansas City, Missouri

Local activists stand across the street from Mayor Quinton Lucas's residence on December 31 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri

Photo by Andrei Stoica

“How many of our friends are going to have to die before they decide that they’re going to make a change?” is the question Lindsey Cattanach of Free Hot Soup--along with other houselessness advocacy groups--is asking of the city following two deaths of houseless individuals over New Year’s weekend. The deaths come on the heels of city sweeps of houseless camps in Kansas City, Missouri.

The first person, who went by “Sixx,” was found dead on Friday, January 1 with the second discovered by volunteers from Free Hot Soup performing a wellness check on Sunday, January 3. The second individual was found inside an abandoned building, and their identity has not yet been released, although volunteers reported that the body was nearly unrecognizable. Police confirmed that the most recent sweep of houseless camps was December 26.

Sixx has been described as a kind, loving person who loved animals, especially his dog, Debo.

Cattanach said she didn’t know him personally, but several other members of Free Hot Soup did. “Everything I’ve heard about is him laughing and having a good time,” she said. “He was a very loving and kind individual, and he really cared about animals.”

Cattanach said she wasn’t sure if Sixx had been in the camp during the most recent sweep, but confirmed that he had been in the camp for several sweeps in recent months.

“I know that his area has been swept multiple times,” she said. “He has been hit with frostbite multiple times, so it was hard for him to walk around...I believe that all the sweeps were a cause of his death.”

Cattanach also said it was a member of her team who was first contacted regarding the second death this week. The name of the individual has not been released, but Cattanach said a houseless friend reached out to a member of Free Hot Soup.

“One of our volunteers got a phone call to go check on someone in this abandoned building,” Cattanach explained. “She did, and when she got there, she found him deceased.” The volunteer then called the police, who confirmed the death. They have not yet released the name.

City Failures in Addressing Houselessness

Cattanach stressed the negative impact of multiple, intersecting failures in the city’s response to houselessness, starting with the sweeps.

“The problem is they’re taking away all of their elements of survival,” she said. “I have many, many friends down there (in the camps) that have been affected by the sweeps.”

She said that often, her houseless friends will be at appointments with caseworkers or mental health professionals, or be trying to get ID or other resources, and sweeps will occur while they’re gone.

“They come back, and their whole area is destroyed,” Cattanach said.

Although city officials have said the sweeps also aim to offer assistance to houseless individuals, including referrals to shelters, Cattanach said these resources are severely lacking.

“You can keep pushing them out of their (camps), but until you provide them with a safe place to go, this isn’t going to be solved,” she said. She recounted a host of barriers her houseless friends have shared in seeking shelter in Kansas City, ranging from shelters not accepting people with pets, like Sixx, to many shelters not accepting those with mental health issues or medical conditions.

“That knocks out the majority of people that we serve,” Cattanach said.

Even if her houseless friends are eligible to stay in a shelters, Cattanach said cutoff times--requiring houseless individuals to call by a certain time in order to be eligible for a spot in a shelter--along with overcrowding and understaffing that leads to high rates of drug use, theft, and rape in shelters, often causes her friends to avoid shelters.

And if they’re eligible and want to stay in a shelter, Cattanach said the barriers still aren’t over. COVID-19 has reduced capacity for many shelters, leading to many instances of Cattanach and her team spending hours on the phone trying to find shelter for one of their houseless friends, only to be told repeatedly there is no room. Even if they can get placement, barriers such as mobility issues due to repeated instances of frostbite also pose substantial barriers to houseless individuals being able to get to a shelter safely.

“Stop the Sweeps”

For Cattanach stopping the sweeps on houseless camps should only be the start of the response from the city.

“All that seems to be happening is (saying) ‘we need to get them out of here, let’s push them out of here,’ and that’s not fair,” she said. “We all deserve the same amount of humanity regardless of where we live. I should not get more humanity just because I live in a house than my friend who lives under a bridge.”

Cattanach said she wants the city to rethink the way it addresses houselessness.

“I would like for the city to at least say, ‘hey, let’s have a conversation about this,’” she said. She said that conversation would need to include the mayor but also waste management and parks and recreation as well as the health department, all of whom have contributed to the violence against houseless individuals in the city.

Most importantly, however, Cattanach said Kansas City’s houseless community needs to be at the table to develop support systems that would actually work for them.

“I can speak for them all day, but they have a voice,” she said. “They are not voiceless.”

Activists Address Houselessness

Activist and community organizer response to the deaths has been substantial, ranging from protesters connected to Creative Innovative Entrepreneurs gathering outside Mayor Quinton Lucas’ residence on December 31 in response to the sweeps in order to bring awareness to the risk from winter weather to email campaigns and open letters to the mayor. KC Tenants, which works on housing rights, is holding an anti-evictions protest on Thursday, January 7.

Other groups, like Free Hot Soup, work to provide food, hygiene products, blankets, and other necessities on an on-going basis. Cattanach said their group is intentionally not a non-profit, nor is it religiously or politically affiliated. She said their group hosts picnics, generally in parks, and also has a team that actively seeks out houseless camps to offer help, resources, and connection.

“A lot of the houseless community has come to rely on our picnics as a safe place,” she said.

She said Free Hot Soup maintains a volunteer base of food donors, mobile response volunteers, and servers, as well as using donations and Amazon wishlists to get the supplies they need to serve their houseless friends.

Published on: 1/5/2021

Creative Innovative Entrepreneurs Distribute Supplies Collected From Second Annual Clothing Drive

Andrei Stoica and Brynn Laurel

12/20/2020- Kansas City, Missouri

Anton Washington and other volunteers load supplies to be distributed to the houseless community in Kansas City, Missouri

Photo by Andrei Stoica

Creative Innovative Entrepreneurs held its second annual clothing drive for houseless residents of Kansas City, Missouri on Sunday, December 20. Anton Washington, Executive Director of Creative Innovative Entrepreneurs, said the drive ties into the organization’s broader work in the community, which primarily offers services for young adults in the Black community.

“Youth need to place their foot in the community to build,” he said. “We’re doing this for our city, our community, to bring our community hope.”

The drive resulted in about 120 bags being handed out at various camps and other locations around the city. The bags included supplies such as hand sanitizer, hand warmers, blankets, thermal underwear and other essentials. The group also handed out coats, shoes and sleeping bags.

“I got a coat for my daughter,” one woman said. “I’m happy now.”

Houselessness is a significant issue for both the metro and the state, with Missouri ranking higher in percentage (1.09 percent) of houseless individuals than most surrounding states (e.g., Kansas’ 0.42 percent). Of the over 6,000 people experiencing houselessness in Missouri, nearly 500 are veterans, over 475 are young adults (18-24) and over 1,000 experience chronic houselessness.

These statistics have led groups like Creative Innovative Entrepreneurs to consider houselessness—especially youth houselessness—as one of their primary areas of focus. The group works to provide resources specifically for the Black community in Kansas City, who disproportionately experience many of the systemic barriers that contribute to houselessness. For example, even though Black Kansas Citians comprise less than 30 percent of the population, they are over 40 percent of those living under the poverty line. Poverty is one of the most prominent risk factors for houselessness for youth and families.

Houselessness also significantly increases the risk of COVID-19 due to factors such as close living quarters, lack of access to healthcare and PPE, and increased risk of underlying health conditions. Washington said providing supplies and other assistance related to COVID-19—and the inequities it has exposed—would be a priority for his organization heading into 2021 as well.

Washington also said he hopes others will see the project and feel inspired to do similar work to support the houseless in the metro.

“What ideas we have will spread,” he said. “If people notice, they will get involved.”

He explained that, too often, disagreements among community members prevent initiatives like this one from gaining traction.

“Why are we bickering? Why have mentalities of division?” he asked. “We have to stick together.”

Ryan Sorrell of Black Rainbow, who partnered with Creative Innovative Entrepreneurs to support the drive, explained that initiatives like this drive are connected to other activist actions as well.

“I'm just incredibly appreciative of this initiative that Anton has put together for the houseless community,” he said. “It's incredibly important that people see—visibly see—the work that's being done in the community. And I think that this is so important, because a lot of times people see us out in the streets protesting. They see us at City Hall doing occupations. They see us calling for restructuring of power in the city. But they don't see the very positive things that are happening in the community. They don't see the mutual aid. They don't see the community building that's taking place.”

Creative Innovative Entrepreneurs has spearheaded related initiatives this month as well, including toy drives and other holiday events. They are continuing to collect donations and considering other ways to assist the community during the winter months.

For Washington, this type of involvement is crucial. He criticized city leadership for not being involved deeply enough with the communities they claim to serve.

“If you love us, put your ass in the community,” he said. “Don’t sit at your desk.”

For the event organizers, showing the community they were willing to listen to needs and show material support and care was key.

“We just want to be a beacon of hope for the city as well, and let people know that this is something that’s possible,” Sorrell said of Black Rainbow’s collaboration with Creative Innovative Entrepreneurs for the drive.

“You have to be in love with your people,” Washington said.

Published on: 12/23/2020

Four Squad Cars Stop Two Protesters Over Parking, No Trespassing Sign

Brynn Laurel

12/11/2020- Kansas City, Missouri

KCPD officers detain two activists on December 11, following the Friday Night Protest at Kansas City, Missouri Police Headquarters.

Photo by Andrei Stoica

“I am so tired y'all. I fear for my family every goddamn day because I don't know if they're going to come home. I don't know if they're going to run into a racist cop one day that just wants to take them and that's terrifying,” said Ky Williams, an activist with White Rose KC, to a small group of protesters outside Kansas City, Missouri Police Headquarters on Friday, December 11. “There's so many people that are harassed, that are followed, that are beaten, that are brutalized every goddamn day, every day. And I'm sick of it. And we're going to keep coming out here, no matter if they put a chain right over this whole sidewalk.”

Williams was one of several activists who spoke during the regular Friday Night Protest, which holds a memorial for victims of KCPD brutality and then marches to chant outside the Jackson County Detention Center, where more than 80 percent (as of 2018 numbers) of inmates have not been convicted and thus are presumed innocent.

Williams and another protester with whom she was riding, Chris Bizzle Jr., were stopped by a group of more than four KCPD vehicles immediately following the protest. Bizzle said cops approached his car without turning their lights on, initially. They were asked to exit the car and were told they were being stopped because Williams had been trespassing. After waiting outside for about 30 minutes, according to Bizzle, Williams was ultimately given a citation for destruction of property for allegedly tearing down one of the “no trespassing” signs. Bizzle was cited for a parking violation and expired registration, both of which he is contesting.

Bizzle said he asked one of the officers how Williams’ actions would have been considered trespassing, since that’s what they were initially told she was being cited for. Bizzle said the officer responded with, “What if you had a flag at your house and somebody took it?”

But Bizzle said the police response—from the citations to how many officers came to stop them—didn’t make sense to him.

“They’re really mad over a paper, like it’s never that serious,” he said. “You can just go back in your office and print out another one and put it back on there.”

Although Friday’s protest saw the protester memorial set up along the chain link fence, protesters had, the previous week, set up their memorial by leaning their boards against the police monument inside the fence—a setup they had routinely used until the chain fence around the monument and the “no trespassing” signs—citing the city’s general trespassing ordinance—were added to the monument in September. The “no trespassing” signs were not present at the Friday Night Protest on December 4, but new signs had been posted by December 11.

For protesters like Williams, however, the signs say much more than “no trespassing.”

“That's a piece of paper that means more than the lives on these boards to them,” she told the crowd. “Eight fucking pieces of paper sitting right here mean more to those goddamn pigs in there than these lives that they stole, that they are continuing to take! We come out here because we want them to know that they're not going to just be able to get away with treating us like this anymore, that we're not letting it go silently, that we're not letting a life go in vain. It's not happening. No.”

“I'm not here to change the minds of the cops,” she continued. “I'm here to take their licenses so they can stop taking my brothers and sisters lives. It's not your responsibility to convince people that this is important. It is not your job to tell people that they need to understand, because at the end of the day, there are powers and the capabilities that each of us has, and we will continue to fight and continue to do this work, and the line will follow, because justice will be served—period. Period.”

Published on: 12/18/2020

Last Board of Police Commissioners Meeting of 2020 Sees All Measures Approved

Andrei Stoica

12/8/2020- Kansas City, Missouri

File photo of Mayor Lucas at a BOPC meeting

Photo by Andrei Stoica

The last BOPC meeting for 2020 saw all measures pass before the board. The agenda was budget-related, ahead of the January 2021 collective bargaining agreement negotiations, including between the FOP and the city.

The board approved a general fund transfer, including Clay County COVID relief funds to finalize purchases before December 31, and two adjustments to special revenue accounts ahead of possible budget cuts. They also moved to accept a $900,000 donation from the Kansas City Police Foundation for the body camera initiative. KCPD announced in June that they had received enough donations to begin to implement body cameras. Kansas City also piloted body cameras in 2016, under the leadership of former police chief Darryl Forte.

The board also discussed other budget concerns, with Mayor Quinton Lucas flagging litigation costs as a key concern. He suggested the possibility of public disclosure for litigation settlements.

“What are we doing (is to) actually see some systemic change,” he said. “I would, of course, enjoy public disclosure of settlements for all city or related departments.”

The police department is also continuing its budget review process to discuss possible cuts, consolidation, and other budget-saving measures, which need to total about $30 million in budget savings to get to the city’s needed $70 million in cuts. Lucas expressed his support of the review as a strategy. He spoke of his experience with a similar process for the city budget, and said it was an important move in order “to avoid just doing something that I think could be far more draconian.”

“Much of the goal of this exercise is to see, well, where are their shared issues, shared savings, etc., so that we can address that, because something that will be very hard for the city to do is to simply say, well, we need to get to 70 (million); we will ignore 30 (million).”

However, Police Chief Rick Smith pushed back on the discussion of budget cuts, citing concerns about the rising crime rate in Kansas City.

“I look at this from, you know, I know there's a money aspect here, but I believe there's a safe city aspect also that must be taken into consideration,” he said.

Councilwoman Katheryn Shields responded to Smith, noting that all departments are experiencing budget cuts and many departments have already seen substantial percentages cut from their budgets. “No matter how critical (the police are) to having a safe city, so is having the money to fund trash pickup. If we can't fund trash pickup in the city. Then suddenly, we're not only going to have a city littered with trash, but we're going to have rats and disease that follow that,” she said. “You know, you all say now, and I think quite fairly, that you're given so many tasks, beyond just policing. But if we cut all of these…I think you're going to find many other things much harder for you all as well.”

Published on: 12/15/2020

Not One More: Trans Day of Remembrance Rally and March Held November 20

Brynn Laurel

11/20/2020- Kansas City, Missouri

An audience gathers to listen to speakers at the Trans Day of Remembrance: Not One More Rally and March

Photo by Andrei Stoica

The Trans Day of Remembrance Not One More Rally and March was held Friday, November 20. The event began with speakers at the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri.

Transgender Day of Remembrance began in 1999 following the murder of Rita Hester, a trans woman who had been killed the previous year. Trans rights activist Gwendolyn Ann Smith held the first event. It has run yearly since on November 20 to honor the lives of trans folx that were lost and bring awareness to the multifaceted, systemic issues that affect the trans community.

Speaker Skyler Whittaker, a local organizer who works with several organizations, including EQUAL Trans Support Group, said that as a disabled, trans activist, their work focuses on fighting for the “freedom both to make decisions about our own bodies and our lives and to make sure that everyone else has that freedom.”

“Some of us are a lot less free than others, so let's talk about which trans lives are the most risk,” they said. “Black and brown trans people are not free. Undocumented trans people are not free. Indigenous trans people and Two Spirit people are not free. Poor and working class trans people are not free. Disabled and mentally ill and neurodivergent trans people are not free. Homeless trans people are not free. HIV positive trans people are not free. Trans survivors (of) domestic violence are not free. Trans sex workers are not free. And in the most literal sense, incarcerated trans people, trans prisoners are not free…’Not one more’ needs to be not one more of these people.”

“Our society was never built for the most vulnerable members of our community to be able to survive,” they said.

Korea Kelly, a LGBTQIA historian and activist, asked attendees to say the names so that stories will not be forgotten. She talked about Aerrion Burnett, Breonna Be’Be Hill, Dee Dee Pearson, Faith Iman Scott, Brooklyn Lindsey, Tamara Domingas, Reese Walker, Jamagio Berryman, Nina Pop and others.

“Let’s not forget the names of those who live right here,” Kelly said, but stressed that Kansas City needed to support the trans community with more than words. “Stop talking about it and actually take action…It takes all of us as a community to stand together as one.”

Freddie Dolphus, a Black queer transman and personal trainer and martial arts instructor, asked attendees to “honor us while we are still alive.”

“It is time for us to really take a stand, not just when we go to protests,” he said. “When one is harmed, we all are harmed.”

Circe Johnson, another local activist, said that advocacy can’t just be for those who have been lost.

“Keep checking up on trans people while we’re alive,” she said. “Don’t give us our flowers when we die…don’t only care about us when we die.”

Viktor Gee, a trans activist who does healing work, also spoke of the need for community—especially now.

“It’s hard to exist right now, and it’s even harder to try to exist alone,” they said.

For Gee, that sense of community was part of the importance of Trans Day of Remembrance. “The goal right now is to take up more space,” they said. “While we're enjoying the space we begin to create for ourselves, we should open that up for the people who couldn't make it.”

After the rally, attendees marched on the sidewalk down to Community Christian Church. There was a memorial and space for reflection and meditation set up inside the church, and attendees could go inside in small, socially distanced groups.

Other groups involved included the City of Fountains Sisters, the Kansas City Center for Inclusion