Christopher Bizzle leads Kansas City-based Black Rainbow, a group that regularly denounces police brutality. He could end up in jail for exercising his right to protest peacefully.
The 23-year-old Kansas City man has been charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct in separate incidents. In one of these, Bizzle was accused of placing a poster board with the names of Black people killed or abused by Kansas City police officers on a memorial for fallen officers.
“I never committed a crime," Bizzle said.
Placing signage on the Kansas City Police Memorial for fallen officers is not illegal, or shouldn’t be.
The area in front of police headquarters where the statue is located was deemed off-limits after vandals spray-painted the base of the fixture, police officials said. The perpetrators were identified and arrested. A chain was erected around the monument. A no trespassing sign went up with a warning of arrest.
Aren’t there any more serious crimes for the KCPD to focus on? Of course there are.
But then, the KCPD seems to think it’s more of a violation to put up a sign about police brutality than to commit the brutality that’s led to the death of unarmed Kansas Citians.
“It doesn’t make sense,” said Kansas City 3rd District Councilwoman Melissa Robinson, who plans to address the issue with fellow council members.
Freedom of expression is a fundamental right. It’s also a cry for help. People are hurting over police brutality and the grave injustices faced by people of color. Yet Kansas City prosecutor Linda Miller continues to seek jail time for peaceful protesters.
In a separate case, Bizzle was also charged with one count of disorderly conduct for allegedly stepping into the street to throw a water bottle at a passing car during a Country Club Plaza protest last September, according to Municipal Court records. He denied the allegation.
Steveland Young and Winifred Jamieson have also been arrested multiple times over the last year for protest-related offenses. Young, 50, and Jamieson, 47, stand accused of repeatedly placing a Black Lives Matter flag around the police memorial.
If found guilty, Young and Jamieson face a $500 fine, six months in jail and 20 hours of community service on each charge.
More than two dozen protest-related cases at or near police headquarters in downtown Kansas City were pending in Municipal Court last week, according to court records. Of the 30 active cases, 18 were for trespassing, three for the destruction of property for ripping off the trespassing sign and three for defacing the police monument.
After the protests that followed George Floyd’s murder a year ago, the Kansas City Council forced Miller to drop all nonviolent offenses that occurred from May 29 to June 2 last year in four areas of town: the Plaza, Mill Creek Park, Westport and the central city corridor, where several demonstrations took place. At least 200 such cases were dismissed.
Young and Jamieson’s cases weren’t dismissed because they didn’t protest at one of those locations, and didn’t protest only during that time period.
The couple regularly protests at police headquarters to bring attention to the officer-involved shooting deaths of Ryan Stokes, Cameron Lamb, Terrance Bridges, Donnie Sanders and others killed or abused by Kansas City police officers.
Offered a plea deal, the couple refused. “All we’ve been doing is memorializing people who have been killed by police,” Jamieson said
The Kansas City Council needs to address why people are still facing jail time for peaceful protests. And the police need to explain why, given all the violent crime in our city, they have so much time to protect a memorial from signs and flags.