NAACP raises civil rights concerns, criticisms of Westport sidewalk privatization in news conference

KANSAS CITY, Mo — The decision to privatize sidewalks in Westport is hitting a nerve with some people who say it sets up a dangerous potential for civil rights violations against patrons of the entertainment district.

Just over a week after the Kansas City Council voted 8-5 to turn over ownership of the sidewalks on Westport Road from Broadway to Mill and on Pennsylvania from 40th to Archibald to Westport business owners, the NAACP is formally opposing the decision.

The Rev. Rodney Williams believes the city ordinance will encourage racial discrimination.

“We are afraid that when people are searched or get into the Westport area that, based upon looks or based upon suspicion that people will be further searched, there is the possibility they could be detained," Williams said. "And when those things happen, it can escalate, and we don’t want that to happen.”

Those who support privatization say, to prevent profiling, part of the ordinance calls for a third-party civil rights monitor at all entrances to the secured area.

Williams said that's not enough.

“Who are going to be those people? Who is going to be watching? Who are going to train those individuals?” Williams asked. “People are still going to bring their biases to the job. We just believe that when you have private sidewalks and people are required to be searched, it is a problem.”

Fox 4 reached out to the Westport Community Improvement District, which declined a request for an interview but sent this statement: “The only reason Westport wants to prohibit weapons it to protect lives, while upholding the civil liberties of all who visit.”

“For the City Council to put in what they call safety measures to prevent racial profiling, to prevent the violations of civil rights, it must be somewhere in their mind that those things can happen,” Williams said of City Council members who voted to pass the ordinance. “Or else they would not put these measures in.”

Williams said he and other members of the NAACP are concerned about the increasing violence in Westport as well as other parts of the city.

“So why should the streets be privatized in Westport and not privatized all over the city?” Williams asked. “We understand the business connection; we understand the for-profit motives, and we understand that’s why businesses are in business -- to make a profit. But we just can not reconcile the fact that life in Westport might be more valuable than the lives in any other part of the city because that is what this ordinance is saying.”

Williams said a better way for Westport business owners to protect patrons and employees is more police presence in the area and searches at the entrance of businesses instead of the sidewalks.

In Spring 2018, anyone entering the heart of Westport on weekends from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. will be carded, sent through metal detectors and bags will be searched -- all in an effort to keep weapons out.

Business owners who have lost business to the increasing violence in the entertainment district hope the ordinance will entice people to return to Westport.