KC Tenants Mobilizes at Courthouse Against Evictions

Bekah Swank

10/15/2020- Kansas City, Missouri

Banner in front of Jackson County courthouse doors on 10/15/2020

Photo by Bekah Swank

Local activist group KC Tenants conducted several coordinated actions today to prevent tenants in Jackson County, Missouri from being evicted.

The protests follow years of rent affordability challenges in Kansas City, Missouri, as well as months of distress nationally and locally regarding the masses of people facing eviction during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many are unemployed. According to the ACLU, eviction can have profound effects on a person’s health, safety, and ability to procure housing later in life.

On September 30, the ACLU and ACLU of Missouri filed a federal lawsuit against Presiding Judge David M. Byrn of the 16th Judicial Circuit Court for “aggressive” pursuit of evictions, even under the CDC’s nationwide eviction moratorium.

Local groups like KC Tenants are also taking action on the ground. Around 8:30 this morning, KC Tenants assembled in front of the courthouse entrance. Protesters from the group placed chains, wooden barriers, and a canvas or cloth sign reading “The people have closed court today” across the doors leading into the building. According to organizers who were on site after the action, one person also chained themselves to the doors.

Ashley Johnson, who said she is an organizer with KC Tenants, explained that there were 162 people scheduled for an eviction hearing today, and that an online blockade of digital court proceedings launched by KC Tenants this morning, combined with the protest action in front of the courthouse shut down all online hearings. As a result, Johnson said, "Court is shut down in person for all morning hearings.”

Following the morning blockade at Jackson County Courthouse, two protestors were detained by police officers. Magda Werkmeister, one of those detained, describes what happened.

“After our action ended, myself and one of our comrades, we were walking back to her car because I wanted to get my jacket,” Werkmeister said. “We were just stopped in the middle of a parking lot by three police officers. They never told us why we were detained.”

Other members of KC Tenants followed the officers and detainees as they were walked to the courthouse and taken inside. Police officers stood in the doorway while the group assembled outside the door, chanting, “Let them go!”

Werkmeister says that she and the other person being detained were led into a back room inside the courthouse and asked for their IDs. Then, after only a few minutes, they were released. “They told us that we were actually being unlawfully detained, so they just released us.”

Although she still doesn’t know why the officers detained them, Werkmeister was positive about the experience. “It was really good to have our people here,” she said. “Everyone mobilized really quickly and rallied around us, which was really heartening.”

The action was continued into the afternoon with Johnson saying that the morning hearings were cancelled. They later announced on the KC Tenants’ Twitter page that the afternoon hearings were cancelled as well.

Published on: 10/15/2020