The events of 10:00pm to midnight on May 30, 2020 on Kansas City’s Plaza — protests and unrest following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis — included the following.
The police, in riot gear and gas masks, blockaded the intersections along Ward Parkway, refusing to allow newcomers, additional protesters, to move deeper into the Plaza, angering a small but growing crowd. “Let us through!” Journalists likewise were not allowed to enter. From the vantage point at the blockade, it was clear a gathering of protesters was locked in a standoff with police up around 47th and Wyandotte Street. The sound of helicopters, sirens, police radios and bullhorns, and protesters’ shouts clashed in the air. Sharp pops. The protesters inside fled west as one, as police dispersed tear gas. Much concern was voiced from the crowd at the barrier.
After a time, an explosion rocked the Plaza. “Shit!” exclaimed members of the crowd, among variations — and even the police could not help but turn their heads away from the masses and look. It appeared a parked car, near where the standoff occurred, had been firebombed. The press later indicated it was a police car. “It’s going down, boy,” someone said. Flames and smoke rose high, and shortly thereafter fire fighters arrived. Meanwhile, a man, tall and skinny, yelled at the police at the barrier, saying he was a veteran who fought for the rights the police trample upon — “You’re a fucking disgrace.” Two women likewise unleashed their anger.
Walking west along Ward Parkway, in an attempt to follow the group of runners from afar, revealed a bridal shop window smashed. Some jokes from observers about black people wanting to get married tonight — though there did not appear to be anything looted. A young woman and man huddled together nearby, the woman distraught over the scene. Soon the pair entered the store through the front door, quickly followed by a shouting cop. “She owns the place, man, it’s all right,” the observers said. The pair echoed this, and the cop recommended finding someone to board up the window. Various other storefronts were boarded up, in advance, along the street.
“I’m just trying to get to my fucking car,” a passerby said to an acquaintance, realizing he could not enter the parking garage due to the blockades. In the street, gas canisters, COVID-19 masks, abandoned signs, water bottles, graffiti. Another broken storefront window, more graffiti. A fire department vehicle with a smashed windshield. A black woman thanking a cop for being out tonight doing his job.
Reaching Broadway, where one could finally turn north, showed a few people arrested and sitting on the pavement outside the Capital Grille at the feet of the police. They did not seem a part of the fleeing protesters, and may have been taken out of their cars, which were along the street, doors open. Moving north, one met the protesters, now all scattered and disjointed, many moving south but some further west and some simply hanging out here and there. The faint sting of tear gas infected the eyes. Strangers made sure one was all right.
“H&M!” a man hollered triumphantly, a valuable bundle in his hands, before three cops on bikes appeared from nowhere, sirens blasting. The man and several other looters sprinted south down Broadway, pursued.
The central Plaza secured, the main confrontation point became the blockade where the crowd witnessed the car explosion, Ward Parkway and Wyandotte. The group grew considerably, to a few hundred, swelled by the protesters that had fled the tear gas a block north. It was young, diverse. The ranks of police were reinforced as well.
Protesters gathered in Ward Parkway, signs held high: “I Can’t Breathe,” “Black Lives Matter.” A few cars zipped around wildly in circles, as if to emphasize the protesters’ control of the street. A white car with four or five people in it pulled up and distributed water, while also providing the tunes. A dance circle formed for a time, while both sides held their ground. Skateboards, scooters shot by. A more festive atmosphere. A chant began — no justice, no peace. But mostly individuals had their say — calls for an end to police killings and abuse.
Eventually the police ordered the protesters to clear the streets and return to the sidewalks or face arrest. The street was full of people, but most were already there. The police seemed to select one individual to make an example of, and surged toward a white man with a sign, arresting him. Their orders ignored, the police pressed forward. Someone threw a water bottle at them. The police shook their gas cans ominously. “Scary ass motherfuckers,” a young woman said. Another woman was arrested. A man hollered, “The police started as slave-catchers! Not much has changed.” “You don’t have to do what your superiors say,” someone called out. Some taunted the black officers, the so-labeled “Uncle Toms.”
The police surged forward, pepper spray raised. A protester threw a brick or rock at them as everyone scrambled in retreat, by foot, scooter, or vehicle. The white car that had delivered water was in trouble, needing to back up toward the police in order to get out of its space and flee. Several officers walked up to the vehicle menacingly. “They’re going, they’re going!” shouted protesters. “Leave them alone!” An officer sprayed into the face of someone in the back seat as the vehicle backed up and lurched forward, the driver clearly panicked.
After pushing their line forward, the police then retreated back to their original position. The crowd then began moving forward, back to theirs.
The police announced that gas would be used if the crowd did not disperse, which the crowd had no interest in doing. The hiss of gas pierced the night air as cans were thrown, grey smoke billowing and streaking behind them. Pandemonium. Screams and shouts as all turned and ran, except for one brave soul who threw a can back. The tear gas burned, blinded. The police, marching forward, were quickly obscured, swallowed by smoke and distance, as the protesters splintered into three masses and fled east, south, and west.
The tear gas appeared to end the Plaza protest — by midnight the crowd had not reformed. However, a woman, leaning out the passenger window of a car moving down Ward Parkway, called out, “We’re going to Westport!”
The time is 3:40am on Sunday, May 31, 2020. Three of the four officers involved in George Floyd’s death have yet to be arrested.