Overland Park was the unusual site of last Friday’s peaceful police protest
The summer of 2020 will be remembered for protests. Not since the late ’60s have so many Americans taken to the streets to protest everything from election interference and mask orders to racial injustice. And as this long summer has run its course, the protesters have become more sophisticated and better organized. This was most evident on Friday, August 21 as a crowd of approximately 80 protesters marched through the neighborhood streets of Overland Park.
Their destination was a tiny cul-de-sac in a quiet suburban neighborhood where Carl Gerlach, Mayor of Overland Park lives.
Several weeks earlier on July 24, Overland Park police arrested Darrien Richmond during a peaceful protest and charged him with battery of a law enforcement officer. On that night, Richmond’s wife was arrested for not moving out of the street when ordered to do so by law enforcement. She claims she was moving to the sidewalk when officers arrested her before she could clear the street. Richmond seeing his distraught wife being arrested ran towards the cops. When officers tried to stop him, one officer was knocked down resulting in “scrapes and bruises” according to Overland Park police.
Richmond is scheduled for trial in September.
On Friday, protesters marched with the goal of encouraging Mayor Gerlach to implement an ordinance requiring officers to identify themselves at all times for the safety of citizens. (Officers have not been consistently wearing name badges to prevent protesters from identifying them.) They requested that the mayor place a Transparency and Accountability Action item on the City Council agenda. They also want the names of the officers involved in arrests in July released to the public.
While police contend that they handled the situation on July 24th correctly, there have been many questions as to the legality of the officer’s actions.
This weekend’s protests had a much different feel than the summer’s earlier protests. At the initial rally point alongside the customary speeches were very specific instructions on the rights of the marchers. Names of the protesters were collected to help ensure that anyone who was arrested would be provided legal assistance. Lawyers and impartial witnesses trailed alongside the group to aid in any necessary legal defense. People wrote the names of the on-site lawyer on their arms and were instructed to ask for him by name if arrested. Overland Park city ordinances had been carefully scrutinized to ensure that protesters knew the letter of the law in regard to what they had the legal right to do.
Protest organizer Stacy Shaw announced instructions on what to do during the protest.
As they left the rally point, two Overland Park police officers showed up to hand out pamphlets that detailed what constituted a legal protest within the city limits. The protesters were followed by officers in unmarked vehicles as they marched through the neighborhood. Upon entering the mayor’s cul-de-sac, the police informed the group that a city ordinance prohibits protesting an individual’s personal residence. The group responded that the protest was never protesting an individual residence but was protesting in the neighborhood of the mayor and that by continually moving up and down the block, they were breaking no laws. The police response was that they would still be arrested and the court could sort it out later.
While this discussion was ongoing between protest leaders, the attorney, and the police, a neighbor offered her yard for the protesters as invited guests of her home. The protesters took her up on her invitation.
When asked why she was willing to do this, she offered: “I believe in this. I always told myself that if I ever was in a place where I could help, I would. This is that time. I like the mayor, he’s a great neighbor. But this is important.”
For over two hours, protesters sat on her front lawn while leaders spoke about the movement and its importance. It became a classroom discussion of civil rights and the history of the movement. Such discussions can be extremely emotional and there were reminders made that the neighborhood had children living in it so avoid obscenities. The homeowners and their children sat in the back listening in. Other neighbors wandered out on their lawns to listen. Some approvingly and some angry at this “invasion”.
At 10 p.m. the protesters quietly stood up and marched away. Stacy Shaw followed at the rear to ensure that nobody was left behind.