From Protest to Occupation: The Lead-Up to Occupy KC

Brynn Laurel

10/4/2020- Kansas City, Missouri

Statue in front KCMO City Hall in the occupied area. Photo from 10/04/2020

Photo by Andrei Stoica

Protestors are now on their third day of their occupation of KCMO City Hall, demanding the removal of KCPD Chief Rick Smith and Officer Newton.

The occupation comes on the heels of an incident on Wednesday night between Officer Newton and Deja, a Black woman who is nine months pregnant. Newton pinned Deja to the ground, putting his knee in her back, a video showed. She was later hospitalized with complications from the incident.

Activist Sheryl Ferguson of ItsTime4Justice explained the violence of KCPD’s behavior toward Deja on Friday, October 2 at the KCPD protest, noting that what was called resisting arrest was clearly Deja trying to not lay directly on top of her belly.

“While they’re saying she’s resisting arrest, she’s just trying to save her child,” Ferguson said.

She urged people to listen to activist demands before making assumptions. “Don’t get so much in your bubble to where you judge without understanding,” she asked protestors—and those watching live from home—on Friday night.

Several incidents leading to occupation

Deja’s story was not the only incident leading up to the occupation. The week before saw several arrests of protestors on charges of trespassing—stepping inside the fence around the memorial outside KCPD headquarters. The charges of trespassing came from protestors propping plywood boards with memorials to Black lives taken by KCPD against the memorial, placing flowers and candles around it, and tying a Black Lives Matter flag around the memorial.

Steve Young, one of the organizers of the Friday night protests, explained, "We don’t deface memorial. We don’t do anything to cause destruction or harm to the memorial. And then we hang the BLM flag around it, and we’ll tie it up with some twine.”

Young said they were told at an earlier date by a KCPD officer that they were allowed to use twine to tie up the flag, as it would not hurt the statue, whereas officers were concerned tape would.

However, around the beginning of September, Young said a short fence was placed around the memorial, and protestors were told they would be trespassing if they stepped inside it to continue erecting their memorial to Black lives.

“They prefer to tell us to remove the Black lives, to remove the flag, because they want to protect this memorial to cops and ignore all the Black lives that were lost to cops,” Young said. “They just want to remove this instead of trying to understand all the pain behind it.”

Young and his partner, Winifred Jamieson, were both arrested and held on bond on Wednesday night and cited for trespassing on the ground around the memorial. They have both been cited multiple times for trespassing on the ground around the statue, even though there had been no issue with them being on KCPD public property previously.

”These are people (on the protestors’ memorial), names and faces, that mean something to us. They might not mean anything to KCPD, but they mean something to us,” Jamieson said.

Other protestors have similar stories. Chris Bizzle Jr. has been arrested twice in the last two weeks—once for trespassing at the statue site and once on accusations of throwing water bottles at the Trump rally on Sept. 26—a claim he denies, saying that he was livestreaming the entire time and did not throw anything.

At the Sept. 26 arrest, Bizzle said an officer pulled over the car he was riding in, told him to get out, and arrested him. He was taken to the patrol station and searched, and he said police personnel took his shorts, jewelry, and other personal items. He said he was released about 45 minutes later—and only then found out why he was being detained.

Bizzle said he feels the police are targeting him.

“They had to be watching me, because they knew where I was at,” he said regarding the second arrest. “I can’t go out by myself (anymore), because me and certain people have been targeted, trying to intimidate us, which is not going to happen.”

Protestors say they won’t stop

In spite of arrests, threats, and fear of being targeted, protestors say they have no intention of stopping.

“Why would I stop? This is not a moment; this is a movement,” Bizzle said—and other protestors agree.

“They (KCPD) are looking for an excuse to arrest us so they can shut us up and we’ll stop protesting, but I can say pretty strongly that that’s not going to happen,” said Jae Moyer, a protestor and activist in Johnson County, Kansas and KCMO.

Several protestors noted a double standard around the trespassing arrests. One protestor, who asked to be named as Misha, explained: “It was just frustrating that public property is now to us—only us—considered trespassing.” She noted seeing Blue Lives Matter protestors close to the memorial without pushback from police.

“I was just there to stand in solidarity with the Black community over our demands to fire Chief Rick Smith, to demand the names of the officers who killed Donnie Sanders, to demand accountability and transparency, and to honor the lives that have been lost,” she said of her participation in the weekly Friday protests at the memorial.

Those demands for accountability and an end to aggressive tactics from KCPD—starting with the removal of Smith and Newton—continue to be the demands of protestors at the occupation.

“Our Black women are under attack,” Young said on Friday, October 2 at the protest, a few hours before the occupation began. “This is what’s been going on in our community for so long now. We’ve been trying to tell you. We’ve been screaming it at the top of our lungs.”

“We are here today to save lives,” he added.

Published on: 10/4/2020