The ACLU of Missouri and Stinson Law firm filed suit against the City of Kansas City, Missouri, on behalf of three protesters who were arrested and charged with violating two unconstitutional city ordinances while demonstrating non-violently against police brutality and racial injustice. Like cities across the nation, Kansas City has seen a rise in protests following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
On May 31, while sitting near a curb, blowing bubbles, and praying in a section of J.C. Nichols Parkway that had been closed by police for protests, Sariah Moody was suddenly approached by law enforcement and arrested. Ms. Moody’s hands were zip-tied so tightly that they became numb, and officers provided no basis for the arrest when asked.
On June 1, Emily Cady was marching in a non-violent protest lead by a minister when law enforcement blockaded the group from moving further north toward downtown; the group proceeded to gather and kneel. While they were kneeling, officers in riot gear advanced while hitting their shields with batons. Ms. Cady and others were on the sidewalk when officers ordered all protesters to get on the ground and began arresting them. Ms. Cady was arrested and her backpack searched without consent.
On June 2, Grace Reading had been handing out water and medical supplies on a closed street before joining the protest herself when officers started advancing without warning on her and the other protesters and ordering them back. Ms. Reading and others were arrested, Reading’s mask—that had been wearing to protect her from contracting the virus that causes COVID-19—and bag were confiscated, and she was not given Miranda warnings. While in jail, she witnessed officers taunt others and assault a Black protester who had to be taken away by ambulance.
Moody and Cady were both charged with violating section 70-73, and Reading was charged for violating section 50-44(a), of the Kansas City Code. Kansas City police have arrested more than 200 nonviolent protestors in just May and June of this year for violating these ordinances, which criminalize the “failure to obey” law enforcement orders. These ordinances are unconstitutional as they give law enforcement unlimited license to silence speech and violate due process rights.
The three plaintiffs seek a preliminary injunction ensuring that Kansas City and its officers will stop carrying out unconstitutional actions against people engaging in First Amendment-protected protest activity. They ask that the Court enjoin the city from enforcing these ordinances.
Tony Rothert, Legal Director of the ACLU of Missouri: “These vague ordinances are being used in a discriminatory manner to target protesters who are critical of Kansas City law enforcement. All people must be able to exercise their First Amendment rights to demand accountability for the police without facing arbitrary threats of arrest. The kind of unwarranted and arbitrary police enforcement authorized by these ordinances is precisely what people are protesting against.”