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Tenants' Group Chains Themselves to Jackson County Courthouse to Shutdown Evictions

Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
KC Tenants protestors occupy the steps of the west side of the Jackson County Courthouse on Thursday morning to decry eviction hearings in during the pandemic.

Local housing advocates say Jackson County is committing “an act of violence” by continuing to evict tenants after a federal moratorium was issued last month.

Members of KC Tenants chained themselves to the doors of the Jackson County Courthouse Thursday in an effort to stop eviction cases from proceeding.

The housing advocacy group managed to shut down all four Jackson County eviction dockets by chaining the court's doors shut and disrupting virtual meetings.

“People's lives are way more important than landlords’ profits. The only prescription for this pandemic is to stay at home and wash your hands. And how can you stay at home with no home?” said Tiana Caldwell, one of the organizers who faced eviction just a few months ago.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a national moratorium on eviction last month, but KC Tenants says Jackson County landlords have filed more than 607 evictions since then.

KC Tenants, which is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), filed a lawsuit in federal court earlier this month against Jackson County Presiding Judge David Byrn for violating the moratorium.

The Jackson County Circuit Court issued a statement that read, in part, "The Court has been and will continue to enforce and follow existing laws, including long standing landlord tenant laws, rules and procedures. The Court has been and will continue to act in compliance with the recent Order issued by the CDC."

The deadly impact of evictions

With COVID cases on the rise across Missouri, the tenants' group said that eviction can be a death sentence for those with underlying conditions. The group’s members said drastic action like Thursday’s protest was needed to stop the evictions still happening everyday.

“There's no room in the shelters. People are on the street. People are crowding in with other family members, making everybody more vulnerable to this pandemic right now. It's a violent thing,” said Caldwell.

Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Magda Werkmeister, left, and, Tiana Caldwell chant while chained to a door on the west side of the Jackson County Courthouse on Thursday during the KC Tenants protest against eviction hearings.

Ashley Johnson is a member of KC Tenants and says her name was one of the 138 on the court’s docket for eviction Thursday.

By not following the CDC’s recommendation, she says the court is prioritizing profit over people.

“The oppressive legal system has never shown morality. This system has allowed my landlord to illegally evict me and my child in the middle of a pandemic,” said Johnson.

Other members said that housing problems in Kansas City extend beyond the pandemic.

James Qadhafi Shelby said he found himself homeless when he was released from prison last August.

“When we are released from prison, we have nowhere to go,” said Shelby. “This is a human problem. We don’t need sympathy, we need action.”

The group demanded action from Kansas City Mayor Lucas with a letter last week asking him to rescind Byrn’s order to continue evictions.

With no action taken yet, the group members say they will continue to protest and halt court proceedings. They are now also asking for Byrn’s termination.

“We have been here for months and months and months, asking for the same thing. All that Judge Byrn has to do is use his pen,” said Johnson.

Two members were arrested in July, when more than 100 tenants’ rights activists protested at the courthouse, disrupting in-person and teleconference eviction proceedings.

No one was arrested at Thursday’s demonstration, but according to KC Tenant’s Twitter, two members were detained by police before being released.

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