A fundamental shift took place in the US with the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Monday May 25, 2020. By Friday, May 29, 437 miles away in Kansas City, people took the streets of the plaza and marched for change into the early hours of the morning. And as of June 9th, two weeks later, the protests are only gaining momentum and instilling real change in Kansas City, Minneapolis, and around the world. This week the Minneapolis City council committed to disbanding and defunding their police department, and Kansas City is looking to follow.
That first weekend of protests in Kansas City had an intense police presence and felt more like a war zone than anything I have ever experienced in my life. Predominantly Black people were in the streets, and the police were using pepper spray and tear gas to attempt to disburse the crowds chanting for change.
I was lightly hit by pepper spray that first night, though the people in front of me got the worst of it. There were protest medics all over, who yelled “raise your hand if you got sprayed”. I raised my hand, and someone put a water bottle in my hand to rinse my eyes and mouth out. Over the next few hours my eyes and mouth burned, and then my face started to seem frozen in place with tingling lips and eyes.
The next night we experienced tear gas for the first time in our life, as police lined up on the street and shot tear gas canisters at predominately Black protesters constantly all night long. Tear gas feels like all the oxygen has been sucked out of the air, and you can’t breathe. It makes you cough and gag and run, and is the best way to spread a respiratory illness such as COVID19.
During this weekend we discussed how violence of property should never be equated to violence toward human life. The police were the ones escalating the scene with weapons, not the protesters who were grieving.
As Martin Luther King said: “Riots are the language of the unheard.”
And friend of a friend lost an eye in Kansas City due to a rubber bullet. Nothing like that was on the local news at first though. Just the “violent protesters”.
The protests have been led by young people of color from around the city. White protesters are there to stand in solidarity with Black people, not to initiate or question anything. As a white person I have been there to support only.
The energy is contagious in the streets. It’s a bad ass revolution party. There is a young Black Lives Matter chapter forming in Kansas City, with fresh ideas and on point politics. Every night at the plaza (the rich part of town where the protests have been held every night) there have consistently been circles of people passing mikes off exclusively to Black people taking turns chanting and speaking and dancing. We also take to the streets at night, and block off intersections by standing on the crosswalks. As the first week progressed, and the public began to see how the police were treating protesters, and as more white allies showed up in the streets, the cops backed down a bit and stopped trying to “disperse the crowds” with violence.
A thing that has been baffling to me through all of this is how the police get to be in the “neutral” and “apolitical” position by the local media. However, the cops are the counter protesters here, nothing else.
I also went on my first silent march through downtown Kansas City. We walked down the sidewalk, and took up 20+ blocks of street. Everyone wore white t-shirts with the names of Black people murdered by police. “We march in silence because silence is deafening,” one of the organizers explained. At the protest I met a Black woman who is running for county prosecutor with the intent to prosecute police. The next night I went to a “defund the police” protest, which is becoming the norm.
If your place of work came out publicly against racism this week, push them to do more. Start anti-racist book clubs, cultural competency committees, make specific space in meetings for POC to speak first and have their opinions and emotions heard, and do the work yourself if you are a white person.
Black Lives Matter.
Police should be charged with crimes and murder.
If they have the power to put people in jail, they should be held to a higher standard with more extreme consequences, not exempted.
Fuck the police state. Fuck the prison industrial complex. Fuck war. Fuck white supremacy and white fragility and colonialism and unconscious bias.
To white people who can’t listen and follow the lead of people of color in America who are hurting, #StayTheFuckHome and fucking figure it out.
We have our own George Floyd’s here in Kansas City, as I’m sure every city does. We work for them, and so that there are no more deaths like they suffered.