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Activists attempt to disrupt Kansas City eviction court after coronavirus moratorium lifted

“If we’re going to say that Black lives matter, we have to make sure those lives are able to be lived,” one activist said.
Image: Kansas City Tenants Host Rally To End Evictions
Demonstrators attend a KC Tenants rally outside the Jackson County Courthouse in Kansas City, Missouri, U.S., on July 30, 2020.Chase Castor / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Two activists were arrested during a protest aimed at shutting down eviction proceedings at the Jackson County courthouse in Kansas City, Missouri, a tenants rights group said Thursday.

The protest, which took place in courtrooms, over teleconference calls and in a rally outside the courthouse, occurred nearly two months after an eviction moratorium put in place because of the coronavirus pandemic was lifted.

The group, KC Tenants, said roughly 1,600 cases had been heard in the court since June 1.

One of the activists, Jenay Manley, 28, said in an interview that she was arrested on suspicion of trespassing. Manley was later released on her own recognizance, said the group's director, Tara Raghuveer. A second activist was also released.

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, which the group said took the activists into custody, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Manley said she was one of a dozen activists who took turns entering courtrooms where proceedings were scheduled. When the judge started speaking, Manley said she stood up and repeated the phrase, “All evictions are violent.”

“If we’re going to say that Black lives matter, we have to make sure those lives are able to be lived,” Manley said.

Manley said that urgent action is needed and pointed to a friend, Tiana Caldwell 42, a two-time cancer survivor who lost her job in March and was facing eviction proceedings after falling behind on rent.

In an interview, Caldwell said the case against her was dismissed after she and her husband, who had also lost his job in May, paid thousands in back rent.

Caldwell, who was a business instructor, said she’s unsure if the school will reopen.

"There are thousands of us," she said Thursday. "The court sessions are getting bigger and bigger. This has to stop."

Raghuveer said the court had been unable to process new cases after Thursday’s action, but in an email, a court spokeswoman said that judges were able to get through their dockets.

In a statement, the court criticized the protesters, saying they “interfered with the rights of the parties who were attempting to participate in those proceedings — including the attorneys who were there representing the rights of the very tenants for whom the protesters were purportedly advocating.”

The protest occurred as advocates warn of a “tsunami” of evictions across the United States as moratoriums are lifted and the pandemic unemployment assistance under the CARES Act expires. The $600 per week payment, which has been a lifeline to millions of Americans as the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the economy, expires Friday.

Some Senate Republicans have sought to slash that payment to $200, though Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said there’s “no consensus on anything” within the party.