KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Jackson County 16th Circuit Court briefly shut down Thursday morning after protesters chained the doors shut, preventing people from entering the building.
Protesters from the local group KC Tenants were demanding a moratorium on evictions in Jackson County.
It happened quickly. Protesters locked the doors to the Jackson County Courthouse with chains from the outside, hoping to prevent evictions from happening.
“Evictions are an act of violence, and we wanted to stop that violence today,” protester Tiana Caldwell said. “That’s why I’m chained to the door.”
Caldwell knows what it is like to be homeless. She was evicted from her home several years ago during her second bout with cancer.
“There was no empathy for me being sick, for me being on the street and being sick and the fact that I was actively in treatment for cancer,” she said.
Now recovered and no longer homeless, Caldwell is fighting for others facing homelessness during the pandemic. That includes people like Ashley Johnson who said she was recently forced out of her home by her landlord.
“She took it upon herself to remove all of the appliances in the house, and then the next day the lights was disconnected,” Johnson said.
Before the pandemic, Johnson held down three jobs to take care of herself and three children. Now she’s down to one job. Her income is drastically reduced.
“Mind you there’s a moratorium in place, but people turned a blind eye to that,” Johnson said.
The CDC issued a moratorium on evictions for non-payment from Sept. 4 through Dec. 31 to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Tenants looking for relief must fill out a form provided on the CDC’s website, stating they meet the financial requirements to halt an eviction. The declaration must then be given to the landlord.
Jackson County Presiding Judge David Byrn issued an administrative order upholding the CDC’s temporary halt in evictions.
However, landlords may still file evictions if the tenant has not provided them with the CDC’s declaration, and as in the CDC order, evictions may go forward for reasons other than non-payment of rent.
KC Tenants wants more.
“If it takes chaining ourselves to the front of the courthouse, then that’s what we’re gonna do,” KC Tenants organizer Wilson Vance said. “We are going to shut it down anyway we can, and that’s because we have to protect each other.”
The Jackson County Court issued the following statement regarding the protest and evictions:
“Every citizen has a right to access the courts and courthouses for redress of their disputes. Today, protesters gathered at the Jackson County Courthouse in Kansas City demanding a suspension of all landlord tenant cases.
“As part of that protest, many protesters attempted to deny access to the courts and deny access to the courthouse by chaining themselves to and temporarily shutting the west entrance into the courthouse. Although entry to the courthouse was available through the north entrance, the protesters’ actions temporarily closed the point of ADA access to the courthouse.
“In addition to attempting to block access to the courthouse, several protesters also attempted to disrupt and interfere with court dockets and hearings by pretending to be litigants when they were not in fact parties to on-going cases, and by continuously talking and shouting over the judge, litigants and attorneys. Notwithstanding these actions which were ultimately unsuccessful, court dockets proceeded and the rights of the litigants were protected.
“The court, as the judicial branch of government, does not create laws, statutes or policy. The executive branch of government (embodied by the President or the Governor) and legislative branch of government (Congress or Missouri Legislature) create laws, statutes and policy.
“The court has been and will continue to enforce and follow existing laws, including long standing landlord tenant laws, rules and procedures. The Court has been and will continue to act in compliance with the recent order issued by the CDC.
“The executive and legislative branches of government can change existing laws, statutes, procedures or policies. If the executive and/or legislative branches of government decide to change existing laws, statutes, procedures, or policies, the court will enforce and give effect to those new laws, statutes, procedures or policies.”