Published June 1st, 2020 at 2:40 PM
A 15-year-old girl cried out to the police who had maced her the night before, proudly holding her tattered Black Lives Matter sign high in the air.
“Do you see how torn this is?” she asked. “It’s because I was running away from you.”
Kansas City protesters of every color took to the streets this weekend over the death of George Floyd while in the custody of ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
While Floyd’s death was the catalyst for the local demonstrations, the anguish protesters were feeling ran much deeper than an isolated incident.
On Saturday, people gathered in the late afternoon at the J.C. Nichols fountain east of the Country Club Plaza. But all you had to do was follow the long line of flashing red and blue lights to find the hub of activity.
Photos by: Cody Boston
It was like stepping into a beehive. The crowd was enveloped by call and response chants such as “say his name” followed by “George Floyd.” In the center of the park there was a table with free food, water, and milk to relieve the sting of mace and tear gas. People periodically bobbed and weaved throughout the crowd offering hand sanitizer, masks, snacks and bottled water. White protesters cycled in and out of the front line, asking black protesters if they wanted or needed protection in the form of a human shield.
Throughout the afternoon, tensions between officers and protesters rose and fell like waves. Protesters chanted. Police would seize someone. A water bottle would be thrown. Mace sprayed. Protesters scattered and then surged again — at least those that were able.
Each altercation left a handful of people on the ground writhing in pain while loved ones and strangers alike held their hands and poured milk onto their faces. Their moans were searing and unforgettable. Even those 10 feet away from the blast of handheld mace could feel the burning in their nose and throat.
Protesters began to peacefully march through the Westport area around 7 p.m. Hundreds of people walked the streets with their arms raised high chanting “hands up, don’t shoot.” Onlookers left stores and restaurants to observe the sheer power of a crowd that size moving and chanting in unison. Most officers lining the path of the march were stone faced — though some smirked as they watched, and one told everyone who passed him that he joined the force because he loves each and every one of them.
At about 8 p.m. the march wound to a close, the sun began to set, and the mood began to shift. The police officers seemed to be dwindling in patience as the crowd grew in strength and numbers. At one point, several officers boxed in a section of peaceful protesters and threw tear gas in the middle, forcing the crowd to scatter and run through the line of officers to get away. The burning sensation of tear gas was almost like being lit aflame.
After recovering from the first round of tear gas, protesters regrouped and gathered in front of the line of police officers clad in what looked like battle gear. The protesters continued to chant George Floyd’s name repeatedly, an act of solidarity to demonstrate their intolerance for systemic racism and police brutality. The protests lasted into the night and throughout the weekend.