ACLU of Missouri and MacArthur Justice Center file lawsuit to protect free speech and right to travel

KANSAS CITY: On June 1, 2020, Theresa Taylor was participating in a peaceful protest on issues of police brutality and racial injustice when she was unlawfully arrested, charged, and, upon being released from jail, given a verbal banishment order. The banishment order prohibits her from returning to the Country Club Plaza (known as the Plaza) or participating in future protests without facing arrest and detention without possibility of bail.

The ACLU of Missouri and MacArthur Justice Center filed suit against the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners challenging the unconstitutional banishment order as a violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

“The racist history behind the Plaza and surrounding area make it an important place for protest against racial injustice,” said Amy Breihan, co-Director at MacArthur Justice Center. “Kansas City Police’s order banishing Ms. Taylor from that area—for any purpose—is clearly unconstitutional. And it also demonstrates law enforcement’s power to silence dissenting voices including and especially when those voices are raised in objection to police violence.”

The protest was one of the many happening across the world in the wake of George Floyd's killing at the hands of police in Minnesota. In Kansas City, on June 1st, a group of about 100 nonviolent protesters, led by a minister, gathered on the Plaza to march toward downtown. With a police car ahead of the group and several stationed along the route, the protesters were thanked by the police for remaining peaceful.

When they reached police blockades preventing them for continuing their march, a portion of the group decided to head back to the Plaza. Taylor remained with another small group of protesters for about fifteen minutes, when they were approached by police aggressively banging their shields with their batons, ordering them to leave the area.

As they were attempting to disperse as ordered, another group of officers suddenly rushed forward and arrested them. Taylor was on a sidewalk at the time of her arrest. An officer shouted and swore at Taylor, zip-tied her hands, and told her to sit against the wall. Her Covid-19 mask was confiscated, she transferred to two different transport vehicles, along with other protesters, before arriving at East Patrol where she was detained for several hours. During this time, officers made rude and disparaging jokes mocking the protesters.

Taylor was detained in a cell with seven other protestors for several hours - without ever being told her charges. She was later informed that she had been charged with violating Ordinance § 70-73 for failing to comply with the lawful order of a police officer with the authority to direct, control, or regulate traffic. A bond was set at $1000 without her even seeing a judge.

It was at 4:00 am, when posting bail, that Taylor and the other protesters were given additional punishment in the form of a verbal banishment order by police officers. The order prohibits them from ever returning to the Plaza and, instructs them that, if they did, they would be arrested and held without bail. It is important to note that the term “Plaza” was not defined by the officers and has several varying geographic boundaries under Kansas City’s own ordinances.

“This verbal order, meant to intimidate and silence Missourians calling for an end to police brutality is unconstitutional,” said Tony Rothert of the ACLU of Missouri. “The treatment Ms. Taylor and others were subjected to at the hands of law enforcement is an example of the very reason it is so important our fundamental right to protest is protected and that police reform and accountability are necessary.”

Taylor’s municipal charges were subsequently dismissed, and there are no current charges pending against her. However, the banishment order still stands. To this day, Taylor remains afraid that if she ever returns to a protest or to the Plaza for any reason, she could face further punishment. Taylor is one of the hundreds of non-violent protesters who, since the murder of George Floyd, have been arrested and punishment by local law enforcement for exercising their right to protest.