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Kansas City Council Advances Proposal To Drop Charges Against Protesters

Police lead a protestor away from a demonstration near the Country Club Plaza on May 30.
Carlos Moreno
Police lead a protestor away from a demonstration near the Country Club Plaza on May 30.

The proposed ordinance would retroactively protect protesters cited between May 29 and June 2 on the Country Club Plaza.

After more than ten days of demonstrations across the metro, a Kansas City Council committee has passed an ordinance preventing city prosecutors from bringing charges against protesters unless they were accused of damaging property or engaging in violent acts.

The proposed ordinance goes to the full council next week. It would protect many of those arrested by the Kansas City Police Department during recent protests over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and treatment of black people as a whole.

“There is no law that says people cannot protest,” said 3rd District At-Large Councilman Brandon Ellington, who introduced the ordinance. “The reason why people were arrested, the reason why people were pepper sprayed, the reason why people were accosted is for trying to exercise their First Amendment rights.”

Last week, the council passed an ordinance that would prevent the arrest of protestors for stepping off the sidewalk or videotaping officers.

The proposed ordinance would retroactively protect protestors cited between May 29 and June 2 on the Country Club Plaza, the majority of whom Ellington says were wrongfully arrested under the charge of “failure to comply with police.”

The council heard testimony from constituents arguing on behalf of both sides of the proposal for nearly three hours. Because of the pandemic, space inside the council chambers was limited and some residents watched from the lobby.

Many speakers who had attended the protests said KCPD officers used excessive force, such as firing tear gas and rubber bullets against protestors who were acting peacefully.

Kansas City resident Sheri Hall said the protestors were being mischaracterized by the police department.

“There were people that were instigators from outside entities, but our peaceful protestors pushed them out,” said Hall.

Several family members and spouses of police officers spoke in opposition of the ordinance, saying members of law enforcement were being belittled and degraded by protestors.

Brad Lemon, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 99, said changing the law with an ordinance was a slippery slope.

“Down the road," he said, "when there’s a subject that you don’t like and individuals that you don’t support start protesting, what are you going to do about those arrests?”

The ordinance passed on a 4-1 vote in committee with amendments made to clarify more serious charges that would be exempt from protection such as looting, spray-painting or sex crimes. Voting in favor along with Ellington were Mayor Pro Tem Kevin McManus and Councilwoman Andrea Bough. Councilwoman Heather Hall opposed it.

The council also passed a resolution that would direct the city manager to determine the number of body cameras needed for the police department and the cost of purchasing them. It would also require the city auditor to conduct an audit of the program within three months of its implementation.

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